Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sweet Easter Sunday - Red Velvet Cake

HAPPY EASTER from our little family!!!!

This is a picture of us following our church's Easter service last night.  While we were enjoying an absolutely wonderful service, James was having an Easter egg hunt!  When we picked him up after, the children's ministry director told us that he was so excited about the eggs.  "Egg" is one of his favorite words right now.

And guess what?!  The Easter bunny came for this mommy!  I had no idea that he still visits grown-ups sometimes!  Look what he brought me:

Okay, so it wasn't really the Easter bunny, hehe.  As I was making a special Easter breakfast of biscuits and gravy, Chris brought me 4 12-packs of mini Cadbury eggs.  He said it was one egg for every day of my chocolate fast, and then some.  It was very sweet of him.  And the other assortment is from my friend Ashley who brought it to me last night at church.  Very sweet treats from sweet people.

Speaking of church, we had an incredible and moving Easter service.  I will never hear the song "Bleeding Love" in the same way.  Amazing.  Simply amazing.  After church, Chris, James, and I went to dinner at the Olive Garden with Ashley, her fiance Patrick, and their little boy who's a couple months younger than James, also named Patrick.  The boys had a blast laughing at each other, and at least 3 tables stopped by on their way out to say how much fun it was to watch them in action.

I've got to get to work on Easter dinner for us and Ashley's family (our tradition, which is roasted rack of lamb, hot cross buns, roasted garlic risotto, and corn on the cob), but I'll share the red velvet recipe with you now.  I'll update later tonight or tomorrow morning with a picture after we've cut into it in all its deliciousness.

Coming to the end of Lent and my chocolate fast, I knew I wanted to make a dessert for today with chocolate in it.  I asked Chris what he would like, and he selected one of his all-time favorite desserts - red velvet cake.  Now, this cake does not actually contain much chocolate (most recipes only call for a tablespoon of cocoa powder, I put in 2 because.... I just felt like it), but it is a fave around here.  I LOVE this recipe.  It is the only red velvet cake recipe I have ever made, and I have no desire to ever try another.  EVER.  It is that good.  If you're not one for cream cheese, sure you can go with a simple vanilla buttercream, but cream cheese icing is really where its at in our house.

For this icing, we really like it to have that tasty cream cheese tang, so I up the amount of that and decrease the butter a bit.  For us, it's perfect.  And you all know that I am ALL ABOUT vanilla, but I don't put any in the icing.  Feel free to play with the flavor as you like.  Here's the recipe:

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 bottle red food coloring (if you want to achieve that rich red, I didn't have it today, so my cake is not richly red, however it will still taste delicious!)

2 8-ounce blocks cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar

To make the cake:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line pans with parchment paper (you can do 3 9-inch layers for thinner layers, 2 9-inch layers for thicker, or 3 8-inch layers.  For today, I did 3 9-inch layers.  Alternatively, you can do cupcakes, but I can't remember how many this will make.)  This recipe is quite simple - sift the dry ingredients together (do not skip the sifting) in a small bowl.  In a separate large bowl, mix the wet ingredients on medium-low until combined.  Switch to low speed and add the dry ingredients slowly until combined.  Evenly divide your batter between the pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean or just with moist crumbs.  For me, 25 minutes was perfect.  Remove from oven to cooling racks.

While the cakes are cooling, make the icing.  Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time.  When you have added the 3 cups, if you want a thicker icing, you can always add more sugar, but I think the texture at this point is perfect.  When the cake layers are completely cool, you can assemble them simply by adding a layer of icing in between each cake layer and then icing your entire cake.

You do not have to refrigerate this cake, but do keep it in an airtight container.  Our personal taste is that we prefer the taste of cold red velvet cake, but the sugar in the icing will act as a preservative for the cream cheese, so it's at your preference.

I hope that your Easter weekend is perfect, that you get to enjoy it with those you love, and honestly, I hope that you are in a place where you can appreciate the significance.  At this time in my life, the Lord has never been more real to me.  The things I have gone through in the past 5 or so years, both as consequences to my own actions and otherwise, the things I have experienced... somehow He has been with me, with us, all the while.  And I finally really believe that nothing I do will separate me from His love.  I really, truly accept it and feel it in my soul.  And I hope you have that same peace today too.

Recipe adapted from Apple A Day

Update! - Here's pictures from our evening of yummy, yummy food!

roasted rosemary rack of lamb

hot cross bun loaf

hot cross buns with raisins

plain hot cross buns

red velvet cake!


And that's that!  And the risotto that you can't see well in the picture with the lamb?  IT.  WAS.  TO.  DIE.  FOR.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Fit Friday - Killer Circuit!

Okay, so, I definitely have not been being a very good blogger.

It is nearly 11pm as I am finishing up this post.....  Sorry?..... Yeah, sorry.

This week has been a bit busier than usual, and I just haven''t had much time.  Earlier this week, we had company, which was a wonderful treat.  On Wednesday, James and I were helping a friend pick out her wedding dress, yesterday was grocery day (always an adventure with a nearly 2-year-old!), and today?  Well, today I was just hoping that my little man would take a real nap at what used to be the normal time so that I could get caught up on studying.  (The nap part did not happen as I had hoped today.)  In between our comings and goings this week, my need to make Hot Cross Buns today, add a case of the sickies in varying levels to everyone in the house and the fact that I am most certainly not Supermom, and that made for not getting much done this week, including the workout I promised you.

However, I still have a great circuit for you (are you noticing that I love circuit workouts?  Intervals are awesome!).  I did this over last weekend on Saturday to finish out my week and I was definitely feeling it (in a good way) the next day, especially in my upper body.  It took me about an hour, though this is probably due to the fact that I had to continually go back to my computer to check what I was doing for the next exercise.  I could have been a bit more efficient in this, but whatever.

Circuit 1
Jumping Jacks - 100
Mountain Climbers - 40
High Knees - 40
Squat Jumps - 20
Plank - 60 sec
Towel Ab Knee Tucks - 20
Bicycle Crunches - 45 sec
Decline Plank - 30 sec
Upper Body
Spiderman Pushups - 15
Tricep Chair Dips - 20
Decline Chair Pushups - 15
Lying Superman - 20
Tricep Chair Dips - 15
Lower Body
Chair Lunges - 15/leg
Wall Sit - 45 sec
Burpees - 10
Single Bridges - 10/leg

Circuit 2
Jumping Jacks - 75
Mountain Climbers - 50
High Knees - 50
Squat Jumps - 20
Leg Lifts - 20
Side Planks - 45 sec / side
Ab V-Ups - 25
Mason Twists - 30 sec
Ab Pulse-Ups - 10
Upper Body
Pushups - 20
Tricep Chair Dips - 20
Decline Chair Pushups - 20
Lying Superman - 20
Tricep Chair Dips - 15
Lower Body
Chair Lunges - 15
Burpees - 10
Wall Sit - 45 sec
Single Bridges - 10/leg

Circuit 3
Jumping Jacks - 50
Mountain Climbers - 60
High Knees - 50
Squat Jumps - 30
Flutter Kicks - 45 sec
Oblique Ab Crunches - 15/side
Plank -60 sec
Wood Chopper Crunches - 12/side
Upper Body
Spiderman Pushups - 15
Tricep Chair Dips - 20
Decline Chair Pushups - failure
Lying Superman - 20
Tricep Chair Dips - failure
Lower Body
Burpees - 10
Wall Sit - 60 sec
Single Bridges - 10/leg
Chair Lunges - failure

Okay, so let's talk about what some of these are.  Don't be intimidated by this workout because some of the exercises have, in some cases, funny names.  I'm including descriptions for anything that the lay exerciser might now know, and definitely things I had to look up.  Anything else unsure, or if my description doesn't make sense (sometimes you just need to see a movement), look at the original link.  There are video tutorials for nearly everything.

Towel Ab Knee Tuck - plank position with toes on a towel (or anything that will easily slide across the floor).  Keeping your core tight, back flat, slowly draw your knees toward your chest, using the towel to help you slide your toes.  Go back to start position and repeat.
Decline Plank - plank, but your feet are on a chair
Spiderman Pushup - do a pushup and everytime you lower your body, draw one knee to the same-side elbow as you flex your foot.  Keep your core very tight - this is great oblique work
Decline Chair Pushups - pushups but with your feet on a chair
Lying Superman - lie on your stomach with your arms stretched out by your head, like you're Superman.  Exhale as you lift everything off the floor, like you're flying through the air.  Inhale as you slowly lower back to the floor.  If this hurts your lower back, you are likely hyperextending.  You just want to get off the floor and hold for a couple of seconds.
Chair Lunges - regular lunge, but your back foot rests on a chair behind you.  It will really test your balance.
Single Bridges - bridge position, but with one leg straight up in the air
Leg Lifts - lie on your back, arms by your side.  Holding legs together, exhale as your raise them so that your body forms a right angle.  Inhale as you lower back to the ground.
Ab V-Ups - these are pretty tough.  This is my modification - lie down.  In one swift, controlled motion, exhale as you sit up to a 45 degree angle while at the same time pulling your legs up in a V-formation and reaching your arms through.  Inhale as you release.
Mason Twist - sit at a 45 degree angle, knees up and parallel to the floor.  Clasp your hands together and reach toward your hips, back and forth, twisting.
Ab Pulse-Ups - lie back and raise your legs to form a 90 degree angle.  Using your lower abs, exhale as you raise your hips straight up in the air.  Try not to rock, its just a tiny movement.
Wood Chopper Crunches - lie back.  As you sit up, lead with your right arm as you draw your left leg up and reach your arm toward your foot in a chopping motion.  Repeat with the left arm and right leg.

You're all set now for a great workout this weekend.  As for me, I got my BodyPump on today, and was super stoked that for the second time now I have been able to complete the entire biceps track.  And seriously, in my head I was repeating, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" over and over.  It was pretty awesome.  I'm thinking a date with Shaun T is in store for tomorrow.  I've got in itch for some intense cardio, and for that, nothing satifies like Insanity.

I hope you are off to a great Easter weekend.  We had an incredible Good Friday service tonight at church, and tomorrow we will attend our actual Easter service.  James will get to go to an egg hunt, and on Sunday we'll have rack of lamb, hot cross buns (traditionally made on Good Friday, which I did, and its a recipe that I cannot wait to share with you!), corn on the cob, roasted garlic risotto, and, Chris's request, red velvet cake.  We'll have good food, good friends, and I am just really excited to celebrate the greatest event in history.

Have a GREAT weekend!

Original workout from Lean It Up

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tasty Snack Tuesday - Banana Bread Scones with Browned Butter Glaze

I love banana bread.  Love, love, love it.  And I love scones.  Love, love, love those as well.  And browned butter?!  Oh my.  Oh my, oh my, oh my.  When I found the recipe for these, as with most must-make recipes I find, I immediately thought, okay, when is the soonest I could have a reason to make these (not that a true reason is necessary)?  Luckily, yesterday evening was the perfect timing.  Some new friends moved to the area and we got to enjoy a great dinner with them, so of course I made these for dessert (who says scones are only for breakfast? not me!).  Even my little picky-pants James likes them.  I mean, come on, just look at those browned bits of butter in there!  There is just nothing better.  Here's the recipe:

Banana Bread Scones with Browned Butter Glaze

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
few dashes of nutmeg
1 stick butter, unsalted
3 large ripe bananas
1 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
buttermilk or milk, if needed

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 stick butter, unsalted
milk or water for thinning, if needed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper (I really, really recommend using parchment, especially for scones, so that the bottoms don't get too dark).  In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Using your hands, a pastry cutter, or two knives or forks, cut in 1 stick of butter until your mixture looks like course meal.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, combine the bananas and Greek yogurt until smooth (I like to use my immersion blender for this).  Gently stir the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.  If your dough seems really dry and you have trouble incorporating everything, add a tablespoon of milk or buttermilk at a time, until the ingredients come together (I didn't have to do this).

Turn the scone dough onto a lightly floured surface and press it to about a half-inch thick.  Using a round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter, cut rounds of dough and place on parchment-lined pans about 1 inch apart.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown (15 minutes was perfect for me, just keep an eye on them after about the 12-minute mark since your oven will bake differently than mine).  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack.  I got 26 medium sized scones.

While the scones are cooling, make the glaze.  Place the 1/2 stick of butter in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until golden brown (being careful not to burn the butter).  It will smell nothing short of amazing.  Pour the butter into the powdered sugar in a small mixing bowl and whisk until smooth.  I found the consistency here to be perfect for me, but if you want the glaze to be thinner, just add a few drops of milk or water at a time until you have the desired consistency.  At this point, I used a pastry brush to apply the icing to the scones and I had exactly enough for every scones, using the very last drop.

These are so good, especially if you warm them up a smidge before eating.  They taste like fresh-from-the-oven deliciousness.  And, guess what?  You can enjoy a scone WITH that awesome browned butter glaze for UNDER 200 calories.  No kidding.  Leave it off and you're around 150 calories.  I've said it before, but that's amazing for a scone, especially when butter is always a major backbone ingredient in any scone recipe.  And side note - don't ever try to cut corners in scones and use anything other than 100% pure butter - your dough will NOT hold together.  And if you enjoy these in moderation, they are too tasty to compromise their flavor by trying to replace ingredients (and this is coming from the queen of subbing applesauce and bananas for different things).

So get to the kitchen and make some scones!  (Don't want to make a big batch?  You can easily cut this recipe in half, or do all the prep work and then freeze the scones.  Bake them straight from the freezer for a few extra minutes.)

I'll see you soon this week to tell you about another great circuit workout, and to also share my own with you!  Stay tuned!

Recipe The Kitchn, further adapted from Annie's Eats

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sweet Sunday - Food for the Soul

Today I'm deviating from my usual Sunday post.  With Easter coming up, we are now in Holy Week, and I want to share with you about a devotional website that I found and am really enjoying.

***If you are a regular reader, or you just found me because you're looking for something food or fitness related, hang on before you click away.  I'm no preacher, I'm certainly about as far away from perfect as you can get (trust me), and I don't claim to be "religious."  (I actually really don't like that descriptor.  I can't even tell you what it means to "be religious."  I'm serious, if you have a definition, please tell me.)  I just have faith.  In God.  Simple as that.***

Anyway, if you have never heard of She Reads Truth, I encourage you to check it out.  Maybe you are like me.  For a while, I had been looking for a way to get back to reading my Bible.  I found She Reads Truth, which is a HUGE collection of different devotions.  There is always a reading plan going on, and what's cool is that you can follow the plan and then connect with a community of other women on Facebook, Twitter, or the actual She Reads Truth blog, who are reading through the same plan.  Or, you can go back like I did and read through previous plans.  And, the site works in conjunction with an app called YouVersion (I'm pretty naive when it comes to cool apps, so maybe you know about that one, I didn't), which you can use on your regular computer, or put on your iPad.  At any rate, if you access YouVersion, you can then find a really huge selection of reading plans, not just geared toward women.  Anything you need, are going through, want to read about - its there.

I'm not here to tell you that you "should" be reading your Bible, or doing this or that.  I just wanted to share something with you that has really fed me spiritually.  Its put the habit back in my life of spending time with God, and feeling a little more purposeful and hopeful with each day.  What is life without some kind of hope?  Seriously, what is there?

I hope you will take a peak at She Reads Truth, OR maybe you already have something awesome going for you spiritually, and if you do, I am so glad.

Stay tuned for an awesome recipe this week, something I am really excited to make.  And Friday, you can bet I'll have a great workout for you, and I also have a Pinterest-found workout to share with you, so get ready!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fit Friday - Jillian's Workout

I have to be honest about something.  I have not always been a fan of Jillian Michaels.  Something about her just rubbed me the wrong way.  I envisioned her helping people on the Biggest Loser, and then abandoning them to a life of being afraid of food and not being able to cope with their new healthful lifestyle.

Then I saw her on Rachael Ray (and you all know that I love Rachael), and I felt differently about Jillian.  She's a mom now, and seems like a much more, I don't know, real person.  She just seemed different, and I have to say, the lady practices what she preaches.  She is fit and strong, but does she rock a 6-pack?  No, and neither do I?  Will I ever?  Probably not, and I'm cool with that.  I like ice cream (the good kind, you know what I mean).

So Jillian, if you ever read this random blog, not that you need it from me, but I totally respect you and I realized something - when it comes to fitness, we can never make everyone happy, and the fact that you can have a platform and get people off their booties and moving is paramount in a very sedentary world.  I hope I can take my love of fitness and help others in the same say to push themselves into a realm that they never thought possible, and along the way, help them realize that they can love taking care of themselves.

So check out this workout of Jillian's from  It consists of 8 exercises, each 1 minute long, maximum reps, and then you repeat it.  I of course said, what?  16 minutes?  That's it?  Let me tell you, they are 16 minutes well-spent.  The only exercise I did differently was the very last one - I changed it to a plank pushup into side-plank.  Check out the line-up, and look at the link for clarifications on my descriptions:

Up and Over's (or side-to-side floor hops if you do Insanity)
-Start in plank position and alternate jumping your feet side to side, knees bent.  Imagine a ball under your knees in your plank and you are jumping over it.

Jump Kicks
-alternate kicking each leg, right then left, and add a hop if you want/can

Abs Sprawl (like in-and-outs on P90X)
-sit with your back at a 45-degree angle, knees in to your chest.  As you straighten out your legs, lower your upper body, arms out, until you are a few inches off the floor.  Go back to start position and repeat.

Ready, Set, Go
-imagine being in the starting blocks on the track.  The leg that is extended behind you, bring it in to tap the heel that is by your hand.  Return to set position and repeat.  Make sure to brace your core and don't lean your knees out over your toes.

Plank Punch
-so easy, but you will feel it!  Start in plank position, then alternate punching arms out in line with your forehead.  Hold your stomach in super tight and try to rock your body as little as possible.

Pop Up
-start in plank position and then jump up to a squat position.

Lateral Burpee
-just like a normal burpee, but jump your feet out to the side.  Make sure to keep your core tight and knees and feet together.  (and check out this post for more info on burpees!)

Pushup into Side Plank
-do a pushup, then transition into a side-plank.  Return to start position, do a pushup, then side-plank on the other side.  Continue alternating.

Think you're done?  NOPE!  Take a few breaths, get a drink, and do it all again!  You might think you can't, but I assure you, YOU CAN!

I've really been enjoying sharing workouts with you that I've done and loved.  Next week, I will be sharing something original with you.  I will write an original workout as if I'm planning for a class.  Get ready!

I am also very close to being ready to take my certification test for group fitness instruction - VERY exciting!  So, I thought it would be appropriate to go ahead and start putting some workouts together.  I have been very lucky that James has been taking marathon naps, which has allowed me some quality study time.  My goal was to be ready by the end of March, and that's coming fast, but I think I'm going to meet that goal.  I'm admittedly nervous (ever since grad school application time years ago and the evil GRE, I have horrendous test anxiety), but it says in the Bible that God will not let the good work He began in you go unfinished, so I am praying that this dream of mine is really His, and that He will be with me.  I could certainly use your prayers too!

All right people, its Friday, yay!  Let's get our workout on!  Body Pump with me, anyone, in 40 minutes?  On Monday, I did the entire new biceps track for the first time - it was awesome.

Have a great weekend!!

Original workout found on

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tasty Snack Tuesday - Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Bars

Love oatmeal?  Check.

Love bananas?  Check.

Love peanut butter?  CHECK.

Enter these peanut butter banana oatmeal bars - the trifecta of my 3 favorite breakfast components!  These bars are somewhat of a densely baked oatmeal, complete with a touch of healthy fats and good protein, and not too sweet if that's not your thing (ahem, someone I know quite well is reading this saying, yep, you know that's me!).  They are perfect for breakfast or a post-workout snack.  Check out the recipe:

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Bars

1 1/2 cups quick oats
1/4 cup brown sugar or applesauce
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk of your choice (I used skim)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 banana, mashed

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease an 8 x 8 pan.  The rest is so simple - I just threw everything but the banana in a medium sized mixing bowl and stirred until it was well combined.  Then add the banana, pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  That's it!  Cut into 8 servings and enjoy!

I have to tell you - I used applesauce in the recipe, and I will be honest, I think I'll throw in the brown sugar next time.  It's not that much of a calorie cost, and I think these could use a touch more sweetness.  BUT, if you choose to go the applesauce route, I think the perfect addition to these would be a spoonful of Faux Cookie Dough Dip for the perfect sweetness!

And in case you're wondering, as I usually am, if made with applesauce and skim milk, one bar won't even cost you 120 calories!  So using brown sugar will only add about 20 calories.  Worth it for the sweetness?  I'm thinking yes.

I hope you're enjoying your Tuesday!  Make yourself a tasty, healthy snack and enjoy the rest of the week!

Recipe adapted from

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sweet Sunday - Chocolate Stout Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

As Chris, James, and I drove to a get together last night for the great Irish celebration, I laughed as I realized that I was wearing the same green shirt that I had worn 3 years ago to a party some friends had thrown when we were living in Canada.  I actually remember that day really well.  We had spent the day in Syracuse (our go-to for extensive American shopping at the time), and I had bought a wedding dress that day!

Our lives sure have changed since then.  A few months later we were married, got a dog, got pregnant..... jeez, its maybe how fast time flies.  It was during that time of pregnancy, maybe a short time before, that I was really coming into my love of baking - I had a lot of free time on my hands then!  I made countless cookies, bread, cakes.... you name it.

With baking came an interest in cake decorating.  I took some classes at Michael's while we still lived in Ottawa, and they were really fun.  I am for sure no expert cake decorator, but I did learn the basics of working with things like fondant and gum paste.  For Chris's birthday last summer, I wanted to make him something spectacular, so I made him a giant beer-mug cake.  It was awesome.  I found a delicious chocolate recipe that incorporated stout, an entire bottle - if you are not a beer drinker like myself, you will still love this.  Stout really brings out an amazing flavor in chocolate cake.  I can't put it into words, but it is just out of this world.

So naturally, I thought of this recipe when planning something delicious to make for a St. Patty's party.  The hard part this time around?  I didn't get to sample any since I gave up chocolate during Lent.  But you know what?  I have survived.

Chocolate Stout Cake

1 bottle stout beer
3 sticks unsalted butter, diced
1 cup dutch-processed cocoa, sifted (or dark, like Hershey's dark)
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2/3 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt

Vanilla Bean Buttercream (with a grown-up twist)

3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream (or milk)
1 vanilla bean (if you don't have any, it's okay)
2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
liquor of your choice for thinning - I used a combination of cake vodka and maple whiskey

To make the cake:  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare your chosen pans (either 3 8-inch cake pans, 2 9-inch cake pans, cupcakes, mini-cupcakes, etc).  Combine the stout and butter in a medium saucepan and heat on medium until the butter has fully melted.  Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder.  Set aside to cool slightly.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  In another small bowl, beat the eggs and Greek yogurt until smooth.  Pour the beer mixture into the egg-yogurt mixture and stir until well combined.  Add this to the flour mixture and mix on low until just combined.  If you make cupcakes like I did yesterday, use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to add batter to your cupcake pan (I'm Type-A like that with cupcake batter).  Bake for 25-30 minutes (mine took 30), or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.  I also baked some mini-cupcakes and those took about 15 minutes.  If you make 8- or 9-inch cakes with the batter, the original recipe recommends 35-40 minutes.  Just keep an eye on them.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the icing:  Cream the butter until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar about a cup at a time, beating until smooth with each addition.  Add the cream, vanilla bean, and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.  When adding your choice of liquor, just add it about a shot at a time until you reach your desired consistency or flavor.  Buttercreams made with liquor will not have a super strong liquor flavor, but rather subtle.  Again, just work with your taste on this.

To assemble: I used a large rosette tip to pipe simple swirls of buttercream onto the cupcakes.  Then I sprinkled them with green coarse sanding sugar.  If you want to make the chocolate shamrocks, you can go about this a few ways.  On a white piece of paper, sketch out an outline.  On top of this, place a piece of wax paper so that you can trace the outline.  Or, I after doing this for a few, I found it easier to just freehand the shamrocks.  And you can use a variety of methods for the actual chocolate - candy melts, almond bark, chocolate chips, or even baking chocolate, as I used (semi-sweet).  I melted 6 or 7 ounces in a double boiler, and it was more than enough to make lots of shamrocks.

Usually I would conclude my Sunday posts by saying that IF you decide to make this recipe, you won't be sorry.... but for this recipe, I am begging you to make it!  Its truly SO easy and OH SO delicious!  As soon as Chris put the trays we brought on the table last night, people were chowing down.... and of course I made sure to save a few for Chris and James (aka the cupcake thief) to enjoy at home.... which was a very good thing because last night James decided to show us that we really should have gotten a babysitter in order to stay longer than 20 minutes at the party (which was absolutely kid-friendly, and there were lots of kids and babies there).  Do you remember a few posts ago when I referenced an epic meltdown, the likes of which had never been seen?  That was NOTHING..... NOTHING.  But don't take that as complaining on our part.  I think we are just entering a new phase of toddler-hood.  I definitely know I would take James's worst days over no days.  I just love that little crab.

I hope your weekend was great, and that you are getting set for a great week to come!  I have a fantastically delicious and healthy recipe coming your way on Tuesday, so get ready!

Cake recipe adapted from Love and Olive Oil

Buttercream recipe adapted from Annie's Eats

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fit Friday - Tabata!

Right now you may be thinking, what is tabata?

Tabata is an awesome way of working out with intervals, which are great for raising and lowering your heart rate, and ultimately giving your endurance a big boost.  The idea is to work really, really hard for a segment, take a short rest, and then work really, really hard again - but for a short amount of total time.

This is a GREAT workout when you don't have a lot of time and/or can't get to the gym, but want a combination of cardio and strength.  This workout features tabata segments with strength segments interspersed.  Now, you will need a set of weights for one of the strength portions, but if you don't have any, you could easily choose another body weight exercise, or improvise by using household items.  This is in my regular rotation, and was definitely a go-to workout before we had a second car when James and I were stuck in the house everyday.  Check it out:

(I would recommend getting your body warm by taking a walk around your house for a few minutes.)

Tabata Circuit 1
Burpees 20 seconds / Rest 10 seconds
Jumping Jacks 20 seconds / Rest 10 seconds
Repeat for 4 minutes

Strength Circuit 1
Pushups 30 seconds
Walking Lunges 30 seconds
Repeat for 3 minutes

Tabata Circuit 2
High Knees 20 seconds / Rest 10 seconds
Side to Side Leaps 20 seconds / Rest 10 seconds
Repeat for 4 minutes

Strength Circuit 2
Bicep Curls 30 seconds
Squats with Overhead Press 30 seconds
Repeat for 3 minutes

Tabata Circuit 3
Jump Squats 20 seconds / Rest 10 seconds
Mountain Climbers 20 seconds / Rest 10 seconds
Repeat for 4 minutes

Strength Circuit 3
Reverse Lunges 30 seconds
Plank 30 seconds
Repeat for 3 minutes

In between each circuit, take rest as you need it and drink lots of water.  Above all else, remember to use proper form and listen to your body as this workout is a little higher impact in some parts.  I love this workout, and when I do it, I usually run through the entire workout twice, and then do each exercise for 1 minute, which makes for almost an hour.... but that's just me!  You can also modify as you need or want to.  For example, in the last strength circuit, since you end up doing a plank 3 times, I like to do a regular plank, then on the next round do a right-side plank, then a a left-side plank.

Do you have any plans for the weekend?  Tomorrow we'll be attending a child-friendly St. Patrick's Day party, so I'm excited for that!  It means I will be making a special dessert (hint: Grandma Cindy, it might be your favorite cake I make!), and I will probably share that with you on Sunday.

Until then, have a great weekend!

Original workout plan from Fit Fab Cities

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tasty Snack Tuesday - Faux Cookie Dough Dip

Friends, it is Tuesday, and you know what that means - time to balance out with a super tasty healthy snack!

When you make cookies, (or, if you're me, cakes, scones, bars, etc), do you find yourself always nibbling as you work through the recipe?  No?  Is it really just me?  It can't be.  Someone's lying here. :-)  At any rate, check out the recipe:

Faux Cookie Dough Dip

1 1/2 cups canned chickpeas, rinsed, and drained well
3 tablespoons nut butter butter of your choice
pinch of baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar
few splashes milk of your choice

It doesn't get much simpler than this - add everything but the milk to a food processor and puree.  Add milk as needed until you get the consistency you want (less for a thicker dip, more for thinner), and taste along the way.  I was very happy with only 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, but you may want it sweeter.  Enjoy this spread on toast, graham crackers, anything you want - the possibilities are endless.  The best part?  Divide this recipe into 8 servings, and each servings is barely 100 calories, and packed with protein!

I don't have a picture for you today, sorry - but I assure you, if you make this, you won't be disappointed!

Have a great Tuesday!

Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sweet Sunday - Chai Spiced Cinnamon Rolls

You know how sometimes you save a recipe, just waiting for the perfect time to make it and the perfect people to enjoy it?  You want to make it, you plan to make it, but you have to wait for just the right time.... if this doesn't happen to you, just indulge me....

...And enter these cinnamon rolls.  Or rather, enter the wonderful company right now of my husband's Aunt Liza and cousin Harley.  Liza is like my other half in the kitchen.  I'm sweet and she's savory.  I make the cake and she makes the steak.... you get the idea.  At Christmas, we combine to form a powerhouse in the kitchen, Liza making the delicious appetizers and entrees, and yours truly taking care of all things sweet.

So when I knew that Liza and 6-year-old Harley were coming to visit, I knew I had to make these spicy chai cinnamon rolls.  They are such a unique flavor and had to be shared with someone who can appreciate a stray from traditional cinnamon rolls (not that there is a thing wrong with the usual rolls, but it's okay to think outside the norm here).  I love chai flavored anything.  LOVE IT.  That combination of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and pepper (yes, pepper!) is just unreal.  I love chai tea, chai lattes, chai oatmeal, and now, these wonderful chai cinnamon rolls.

I have only once made a yeasted cinnamon roll, and you can be sure that they will make an appearance here someday.  My normal go-to is essentially a quick bread, just a simple sweet dough made with buttermilk and filled with the usual goodies of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and, in this case, cinnamon chips, one of my absolute favorite kitchen goodies (no lie, there are at least 10 bags in my pantry right now, you have to stock up around here at Christmas, the only time to find such gems in the store at a decent price!).  These quick cinnamon rolls are undoubtedly delicious, but a yeasted roll?  They are to die for.  That's right, people.  TO DIE FOR.  I ate two this morning, but could have easily wiped out the pan.  Also, they are great because you can do the majority of the work the night before, as I did, and then just pop them into the oven in the morning!  So, before I ramble on any more, let me give you this recipe:

Chai Spiced Cinnamon Rolls

For the dough:

1 1/4 oz active dry yeast (a smidge over 2 teaspoons, I just measured 2 heaping teaspoons, or just use 1 envelope)
1/2 teaspoon sugar, plus 1/4 cup
1/4 warm water
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature, or warmed in the microwave for 15 seconds
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/3 cup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
pinch of cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, or slightly softened in the microwave

For the filling:

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon (that's right, a tablespoon, don't be afraid)
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (yep, pepper, trust me, you need it)
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the icing:

1 cup powdered sugar
dash of each cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, more to taste
liquid to thin, your choice - cream, milk, water

To make the dough:  In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water, yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.  Set aside for 5-10 minutes to become foamy.  In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, milk, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk.  Set aside.  In another bowl, combine 2 3/4 cups of flour with the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and salt.  Once the yeast has proofed, add the egg mixture and whisk to combine.  Attach the bowl to your stand mixer and attach the dough hook.  Add the flour mixture and combine over a medium speed.  After a few minutes of kneading, add 1/2 cup of butter, about a tablespoon at a time.  Allow the dough to knead for a few more minutes.  Now add in the remaining 1/3 cup of flour and knead for a few more minutes.  Your dough may still seem a bit wet and sticky, but rest assured, all will be just fine.  Place the dough into a greased bowl, and allow to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

To make the filling:   While the dough is rising is a nice time to make the filling.  Combine the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, salt, pepper, and cloves.  Add the maple syrup and stir until everything is well combined.  Your mixture will look a bit like wet sand (and it will taste SO good.... not that I did any sampling).

Assembling:  After the dough has risen, place it on a lightly floured work surface and roll out with a floured rolling pin.  You want to make a large rectangle, such that your dough is less than 1/4 inch thick, but not paper thin.  Just use your judgment, I assure you, you really cannot go wrong here.  With a pastry brush, spread the 1/4 cup of melted butter onto your dough rectangle, leaving about a 1-inch border on the long sides of the rectangle.  Next, spread the filling across the buttered surface, using all of it.  Finally, roll the dough into a long, tight cylinder.  Using a very sharp knife, slice the dough into rounds, about 1- to 1 1/2 inches thick (the original recipe directs you to slice into 8 huge rolls, I went my way and got 12 average sized rolls).

You have 2 options at this point - if you are making these the night before, just place the dough rounds into a greased 9 x 13 pan, evenly spaced, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.  The next morning, just allow them to "wake up" a bit for 15-30 minutes before baking.  OR,place the dough rounds into the 9 x 13 pan and allow them to rise for an hour in a warm place.

Regardless of your chosen previous step, bake the rolls in the oven at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.  While the rolls are baking, you can make the icing really quickly.  Just whisk the powdered sugar, spices, and a splash of liquid (okay start with a couple of tablespoons) until the icing consistency is to your liking.  Here's what the rolls look like fresh from the oven:

The last step is very important - TRY not to eat too many.  At one time..... (Oh, and maybe don't eat 2 rolls, have 2 cups of coffee, and then decide to go for your date with Shaun T and do some Pure Cardio.  You'll survive, as evidenced by the fact that I am still alive, but it will be painful.)  And one more yummy shot:

So there you go!  These rolls are everything a fresh cinnamon roll should be - golden, fluffy, gooey, just full of awesomeness.  If you make them, you will not be disappointed.  And be sure to check out the original recipe, which called for candied ginger, which was quite expensive (for me), so I omitted, but I can only imagine how much yumminess this would add.

I'll see you on Tuesday for a truly healthy, yummy treat!  (Because, remember! - its all about balance!)

Have a great week!

Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker

Friday, March 8, 2013

Fit Friday - The Power of Rest Days

I have more or less shared with you that when it comes to working out and competing with myself, I have an ego the size of Texas.  I am constantly trying to jump higher, lift more, and push harder than I did in my last workout.  Maintenance days?  And rest days?  ..... Who needs those when you're a machine?

Well, everyone.  And you who that includes?  Me.

I hate taking rest days.  It makes me feel inefficient.  Now, I'll be completely honest and admit that this goes back to some deep-seeded compulsions that I have buried in the past and try not to resurrect, but sometimes it happens.  I do in fact have a pure love for exercise and working hard, but I do have to take a step back from time to time and ask myself - if my behavior was that of a client's, would I tell him/her to chill out, or push through that workout even though A, B, or C is hurting, and not in a good way?  Pushing through "good" pain, is just that - good.  But pushing through bad pain, nope, not okay.

For about a week, my right knee has been a little off, but off enough that I at least knew better than to push it any more than what I have.  I can pretty much pinpoint this to the weekend before last.  That Saturday, I had a great workout.  I should have left it at that, but no, on Sunday, I decided I wanted to try to get back into running.  That went fine, and would have been all well and good, except then Monday I went to BodyPump and did more weight on every muscle group than I have ever done, particularly in squats and lunges.  I felt great, but then come Tuesday and Wednesday, I knew I had wayyyyyyy overdone it.  So I finally got my head together and barely did anything yesterday (went a snail's pace on the elliptical while studying my ACE book), and that was it.  For me, that is doing nothing.  I felt a thousand times better today and allowed myself to go to BodyPump, but rarely lifted anything over my warm-up weight.

And you know what?  I kept myself in check, and so far, no pain.  So that's a good thing!

So, my point is, take a rest day people!  (Right now, my husband is reading this and rolling his eyes, because he always knows when I am in need of a little recovery.... and he tells me to rest, and most of the time I don't listen.)  Take it from me - I KNOW it is hard to force yourself not to go workout.  Trust me, I KNOW.  But you know what you could do in the meantime, like I did?  Whip up a special treat for your husband (a peanut butter and chocolate dessert that I might feature soon), some oatmeal stout bread (yeah, you'll definitely see that one soon), or a special healthy-but-very-addicting snack that I think I'll share with you on Tuesday next week.  I know its all a tease.  I promise I have some great things coming your way.

Maybe today or tomorrow or Sunday is your "scheduled" rest day.  Whatever day it is, I hope you get the rest you need (you know what was a BIG help for me - having my son FINALLY sleep through the night last night after a LONG stretch of being up every couple of hours), and I hope you have a GREAT weekend!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On an unrelated note....

This is completely off-topic from my normal sugar-and-sweat posts, but I was so appreciative of the small act of kindness that James and I experienced that I want to share it with anyone reading as a reminder, at least to myself, to forget about the aggravating things that complete strangers can do, and remember that for every time something irritating happens, something great can happen.

I rarely wish for my almost 2-year-old son to be older.  I know that each day is one that I will never get back, and, even in the midst of incredibly frustrating tantrums (including the epic, never-before-seen-on-this-level one that Chris and I experienced last night), I have to remind myself to not use the words, "if only he was a little older, blah, blah, blah...".  BUT, today we experienced such a teachable moment, that I did in fact talk to him about as if his very young mind could grasp, and I found myself wishing he were around 4 or 5 so that he could appreciate what I was telling him.

Okay, so here's what happened.  James and I had just finished picking up some groceries at Aldi (super fantastic if you are watching your grocery budget by the way).  We were waiting in line to pay when we received our first bit of, let's say, rudeness.  However, this was preceded by the gentleman in front of me offering to let a woman who's poor arms were so full go in front of us.  She looked back at me, since obviously this meant I had to wait another minute to pay then.  I nodded my head at her to go ahead (there are so many times that someone, at Aldi, has been so gracious to let me go ahead when I had James in one arm, and the 10 things that I decided to buy, but had only planned to buy 2, so I didn't bother with a cart).  So anyway, she goes ahead, the guy in front of me moves up, and out of nowhere, this guy just parks his cart in front of me.  There is no way he was blind and didn't see us!  Some time ago I would have stood there huffing and puffing until he noticed how annoyed I was, but no, I took a deep breath, and in the end, another lane opened up, and it wasn't a long wait to pay.

THEN, the same guy just leaves his cart in front of my door in the parking lot.  At this point, he clearly saw that I not only had a child I was trying to put in the car, where he had blocked me, but of all places to leave his cart, he put it in front of a car that was clearly being loaded.  I just looked at him and shook my head.  I could not believe this.

Right then walks the guy who had been in front of me in line (before the other man cut us off) and says, "here, I'll just get that out of the way for you."  I smile, say thank you, and he takes the other man's abandoned cart.  And then, after I got the groceries loaded and James in his car seat, the guy comes BACK and says, "I know you have a child in your car, why don't I take that up for you."  It may seem small, but I was so touched by this, especially since James and I rarely experience any sort of an extra hand when we clearly can use it sometimes. Its not that I think I have any kind of entitlement, but, for example, if I see a mom (or anyone, but especially a parent) struggling to both open a door and get her stroller through at the same time, you better believe I'm helping her out.  And there's usually an exchange that goes something like, "wow, thank you so much," with a reply of, "I know its hard to do XYZ by yourself with a kid!"

So then I got into the car, and I said to James, who was just hanging out in his carseat of course, "James, Mommy should not have even wasted the time to be annoyed with that man leaving his cart there.  People are going to do things in life that you don't like, and there's nothing we can do about it.  But then good things happen, like that man coming to help us with both of the carts.  Its so much better to just roll with everything, and know that better things are always on the way."

This was SUCH a teachable moment, but I know that there will be many more.  So, I'm sure he's not reading this random mom's blog, but to the man at Aldi today - thank you for reminding me today that people are still capable of these random, but not necessarily small, acts of kindness.  It made my day, and to anyone reading, I hope it inspires you to always be on the lookout for how you can help someone out.

That is all!  If you made it through all of this, thanks, and I'll see you tomorrow for Fit Friday!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tasty Snack Tuesday - Banana Bread Baked Oatmeal

So today's feature is less of a snack and more of a meal, but that's okay right?

I love oatmeal in any way, shape, or form - baked, cooked in the microwave (which is usually what happens), boiled on the stove - I just love it!  So many recipes are for serving several people, so when I came across this single serving, I knew I had to hang onto the recipe.  It only takes 20 minutes to bake - you could mix it up, pop it in the oven, and run around after a crazy little guy enjoy your coffee while its cooking like I did.  And it makes quite a generous serving, which is always a plus in my oatmeal-book!  Here's the recipe:

Banana Bread Baked Oatmeal

1/3 cup oats
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I used an entire teaspoon and it was perfect for me)
pinch of salt
1/3 cup milk of your choice
1 egg white
1 mashed ripe banana
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
sugar-free syrup for topping, optional

This could not be any easier.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a small oven-proof dish (I used a 16 ounce corning ware ramekin).  Then its as easy as mixing the dry, mixing the wet, then combining these two sets of ingredients (though, if you don't have a super-ripe banana like I didn't this morning, I used my immersion blender to really incorporate it into the milk at first).
fresh from the oven

....and stirred up a bit

What I really liked about this recipe was that it truly didn't need any extra sweetness, though I did add just a touch of sugar-free syrup, but it would have been fine without it.  One very important tip - DON'T FORGET to add the baking powder, which is what I did!  I had to laugh at myself when my oatmeal only had 5 minutes of baking left and I realized I forgot that.  I NEVER do that!  Oh well, it still came out great, but I can only imagine how much fluffier it will be when you add that important component.

Now go make yourself some yummy oatmeal!  And side note, sorry I skipped out on Sweet Sunday.  I actually baked up a couple of great things this weekend, but we were enjoying a wonderful grandparents visit, which also meant quality time for Chris and myself, sooooo..... it will be back this Sunday!  I hope you are off to a great week so far!

Recipe adapted from Healthy Food for Living

Friday, March 1, 2013

Fit Friday - Burpees and Squats!

It's Friday, woo-hoo!

I told you that I had a great workout to share with you earlier this week, and I do!  On days that don't involve a date with Shaun T for Insanity, this is a great workout, either on its own if you have very little time, or as an addition to whatever you've chosen for the day.  Rest assured, this combination of burpees and squats will work your entire body!

First things first, what is a burpee?

Jump yourself down to a plank position - also known as military pushup position - your arms are straight, your hands are directly under your shoulders, your head is in alignment with your back, which is straight, and your feet are no more than shoulder-width apart.  Also - your butt is not in the air!  Very important.  From this point, go down into a tricep/military pushup, keeping your elbows pinched to your sides.  As you come up from your pushup, jump your feet to your hands and, powering up from your heels, jump straight up into the air.  Congratulations, that's a burpee!  (And if you are confused, just look on YouTube).

Okay, now that you know what a burpee is, here's what you're going to do:

10 burpees
1 squat
9 burpees
2 squats
8 burpees
3 squats
7 burpees
4 squats
6 burpees
5 squats
5 burpees
6 squats
4 burpees
7 squats
3 burpees
8 squats
2 burpees
9 squats
1 burpees
10 squats

Rest a minute, then repeat in the opposite direction.

Now go get your workout on!

You can find the workout online here