Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy Little Accidents & Red Velvet Cupcakes

Like most gluttonous Americans, I have eaten enough to feed a small country in the past week. I've definitely felt the blah to go with it. Somehow in my food lethargy I was able to pull myself onto the treadmill this morning.

Shortly after hitting the one mile mark I realized that in my pre-run stupor I had neglected to put on my knee brace. (In the post entitled "Freak Bowling Accident" I described the incident that made the brace necessary.) I was a little worried that my IT Band Syndrome would flare up but decided to continue and see what would happen.

Around the two mile mark I felt the familiar and frightful twinge, but it never progressed and eventually went away. I love it when the stupid little things I often do turn into good things. I just wish it would happen more often.


Speaking of food induced lethargy, hurry and make these cupcakes before your New Year's resolutions kick in because they aren't allowed in any diet I've ever heard of. They are incredibly moist and delicious.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with an electric mixer. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, softened
2 sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy. Makes enough for 2 batches unless you are EXTREMELY liberal with the frosting.

Recipe by Paula Deen

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Boringity & Gingerbread Waffles

When I tell people that I'm a runner they often say something to the effect of "I tried running but it was boring." I have to admit, there are times when it is boring to me too. Boringest (yes, I just made up that word) of all is running on a treadmill.

And so I enter winter in Detroit. I've mentioned a couple of times how the weather outside is fittingly frightful this time of year, causing me to retreat to the basement to slog it out on the treadmill. There's not much that I can write about these runs, and if you're a person that doesn't run because of the boringity (yes, that's another made up word) of it, I'm sure reading about running is torture.

So here are some things that I have done to decrease the boringocity (that's three) of running:

- Music: whenever I run outside, and sometimes when I run on the treadmill, I listen to my MP3 player. Music comes in handy for me when I need something to pump me up. Over a long period of time, though, I find it boring because all of the songs on my MP3 player are songs that I know by heart and don't demand my attention. So I start thinking about how tired I am or just start to get bored. Disclaimer: be careful when running while lisening to music, especially loud music. Be especially aware of cars that may or may not see you.

- Audiobooks: My favorite for outside running. Besides running and creating sugar based substances I love to read. With all the demands on my time I rarely have time to read like I would like, so I load books onto my MP3 player and multitask. One drawback is that not just any book will do. They have to be captivating and fairly mindless. Tolstoy will have to wait. I have gone through about a hundred books this way. What am I listening too now you ask? The Life of Pi.

- TV: Obviously only works when running on the treadmill. It helps when something good is on.

- Running partners: Works great for other people. I've already described how I'm not a social runner. (I am, however, a social sugar consumer.)

So, if you've wanted to be a runner but found it boring, maybe give one of these ideas a try. If it's still boring, try skydiving because I hear it's very antiboring (four).


Since it's just a few days before Christmas I'd better hurry and get all the gingerbread out of my system. There are a lot of complicated recipes for gingerbread waffles out there. This is not one of them. It uses Krusteaz just-add-water pancake mix but any plain pancake batter will work as a base.

Gingerbread Waffles


-3 cups Krusteaz buttermilk pancake mix
-2 cups water
-2 tsp ground cinnamon
-2 tsp ground ginger
-1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
-1/4 cup molasses
-1/4 cup brown sugar
-1 Tbs vegetable oil

Mix all ingedients until combined but still slightly lumpy. Add more water if it is too thick. Cook it up on any ol' waffle iron. I cook them for a fairly long time because I like waffles crispy.

Serve with syrup, especially buttermilk syrup, the recipe for which you can find in another post.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Glory Days & Mint Truffles

The list of my major running triumphs is short, mainly because I'm so slow I once lost a race to a particularly peppy elm tree. I guess that makes the victories all the more sweet.

One such victory comes from my teenage years. There was a man in my neighborhood with whom I went to church. He was a runner and when I was about 16 or so he invited me to train with him and then run a 5K. We went running together several times. I could tell that he was faster than me but I was grateful that he was willing to slow to accommodate my pace. The day of the race came and he slowed up to run with me for the majority of the race. When the end was in sight he took off and I was unable to match his kick.

A short time after that race there was another that we decided to do. We trained again. I can't say that I really felt myself getting faster or anything. But when race day came and it was time for that final kick I left him in the dust. It was a great feeling and he was very gracious in defeat.

For some reason we didn't run much together after that but I hope it wasn't because he thought that if he couldn't even beat the slow kid from around then the corner then it wasn't even worth trying.


I've posted three of the recipes for the candies that we have given out this Christmas. Here is the fourth. It is probably the one that I have had the hardest time with. It has just never tasted the way I wanted it to. I think I've got it figured it out now and unfortunately, the recipe posted here is better than the one I used to make the truffles we gave out this year. My apologies to all you Michiganders that got second rate truffles.

Chocolate Mint Truffles


• 10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
• 5-8 drops peppermint extract
• 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
• 1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder for coating truffles (If you don’t have Dutch process cocoa you can substitute it by adding ½ tsp baking powder to regular cocoa)


Place the 10 ounces of chocolate and butter in a medium size glass mixing bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Remove and stir, and repeat this process 1 more time. Set aside.

Heat the heavy cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the melted chocolate mixture; let stand for 2 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, stir gently, starting in the middle of bowl and working in concentric circles until all chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth and creamy. Mix in 5-8 drops of peppermint extract according to taste. Pour the mixture into an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Using a melon baller or small cookie scoop, scoop chocolate onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Place the cocoa powder a pie pan and set aside.

In the meantime, melt the 8 ounces of chocolate using your preferred method. This could be using a double boiler, the microwave or a heating pad. Any way you do it the chocolate should melted but not uncomfortably hot to the touch. The temperature should be about 90 to 92 degrees F. If the temperature goes above 94 degrees the coating will not have a nice snap to it.

Remove the truffles from the refrigerator and shape into balls by rolling between the palms of your hands. Use powder-free vinyl or latex gloves, if desired.

This next step can get a little messy. Dip a couple of your fingers into the chocolate. Place a truffle from the clean hand into the chocolate one. Roll the truffles between your fingers until it has a thin coating all around. Drop onto the cocoa powder. Move the truffle around to coat and leave truffle in the coating for 10 to 15 seconds before removing. In the meantime, continue placing the chocolate-coated truffles in the cocoa. Remove the truffle to a parchment lined sheet pan. Repeat until all truffles are coated. Allow to set in a cool dry place for at least 1 hour; or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. We found it necessary to knock off the excess cocoa powder by shaking them in a sealed container. Otherwise the powder can be a little overpowering. Truffles are best when served at room temperature.

Adapted from Alton Brown

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Slush for Brains & Caramels

This past weekend the area in I which live was hit by a moderate snowstorm immediately followed by temperatures that would make a polar bear grab a scarf. It's so cold that the salt that the crews put down on the roads hasn't really worked so there's still slipping and sliding all over the place.

Into this scene I begin my brief narrative. I hopped in my car at 6 am this morning, immeasurably grateful for an attached garage. The temperature was right around zero with a wind chill of -10. I drove down my street in the eery pre-dawn blackness. There, ahead of me were ethereal lights bobbing yellow and white like little eskimo fireflies.

Okay, enough with the drama. The little lights were the reflectors on a certifiably insane runner out before dawn in sub-zero temperatures, running on ice. I thought to myself, I like running, but obviously not as much as that guy because you will never find me doing that. Halleluiah for a treadmill.


My wife and I have been slaving away over sugar pots for the last week finishing up our Christmas chocolates. I've already posted the recipes for two of the staples, Almond Joys and Buckeyes. Today I'm posting a new favorite that we've worked on for a couple of years and finally found the perfect winner.

Soft Caramels

1 quart heavy cream (32 oz)
4 cups sugar
2 cups corn syrup
1 can evaporated milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the cream. sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk and salt in a large pot and heat on medium, stirring regularly until it reaches 235 degrees (soft ball stage). Remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour into greased 9X13 cake pan. Chill thoroughly. Cut into bite sized pieces and roll in squares of wax paper.

-Use a large pot because it will bubble up to more than double in volume.
-It will heat up pretty quickly until it hits about 215 degrees then it will go much more slowly. It could take an hour or more. Be patient, it's worth it.
-Works wonderfully to dip in chocolate and sprinkle with a little sea salt.

Recipe from Wendy Russon. Her annual Christmas gift of caramels was the single most coveted goody in our house.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blood, Sweat & Apple Dip

I went for a 5 mile run last night at a pace that I thought would be nice and leisurely. During the run, however, I had to slow down a couple of times because I felt like I was pushing it a little too hard. Fortunately I finished feeling pretty good.

Only after I finished did I realize that I had donated blood in the morning. That would explain the lethargy.

The experience was a good reminder to me that not every run is going to go according to plan. When I'm in the midst of training for a race I have a schedule that I follow religiously. But there are days when it's just not there and I feel like I have to take it down a level.

Obviously, if I cut every workout down a notch then I won't reach my goal, but it's okay to cut back today and make up for it tomorrow. I'm glad that I've gotten to the point in my running where I feel okay about cutting my losses and living to fight another day.


This recipe is fool-proof and fabulous. It is perfect for any type of party.

Apple Dip

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup of melted butterscotch chips (1/2 bag) (Nestle works better than generic)
¼ tsp cinnamon
Dash salt
1 Tbs vinegar

Mix all ingredients. Heat in microwave or on the stovetop, stirring periodically until all of the butterscotch chips are melted and the dip is smooth. Great with green apples or bananas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wanted: Buckeyes & a Fear of Failure

As I've mentioned before, I've always struggled with my weight, which fluctuates a lot based upon the unsustainable diet of the moment. Almost two years ago I began my current effort using the low-tech "Eat Less, Move More" diet. I've lost 50 pounds and kept it off for more than a year. Although I wouldn't mind losing another ten, I'd be happy to stay where I am.

One of the problems that I've had with past diets has been that the exercise portion hadn't stuck. I’ve done a lot of things including basketball and even running but it wasn't until I started setting running goals that I was able to stick with something long enough to maintain the weight loss.

My first goal was to run a 10K, then I increased it to a half-marathon, then a marathon, then another. I'm now at a crossroads. I've finished a couple of marathons and while I know that it would take a lot of work to be ready for another, I know that I could do it. The fear of failure that has driven me in the past is gone.

So I've been browsing around for new things to challenge myself. There are several options:

Marathons or half marathons with faster time goals
Pros: Cheap. Familiar. Works well with my schedule
Cons: Might not provide enough motivation to keep me pushing

Pros: Something new, fun, excuse to get a bike
Cons: Expensive (see bike above). Have to get access to and arrange time at a pool

Ultramarathon (running anything longer than a marathon, usually 50 or 100 miles, but sometimes as long as 135)
Pros: Challenging
Cons: Time consuming. Crazy

For now I've decided to go the easy route and try for some faster times. My next race is the Martian Half Marathon in April. If that fails to provide sufficient motivation then I'm sure you'll read about it here. Maybe I'll eventually have to rename the blog "Will Run Until My Feet Turn Blue and Fall Off for Dessert".


It must be Christmas time because people around me have started to inquire when they will receive their annual bag of homemade chocolates. My wife and I gave out about 70 bags last year to friends, neighbors and coworkers. Almond Joys are always there (see recipe in previous post) as are Buckeyes. They are awesome.


1 ½ cups creams peanut butter (12 oz.)
½ cup butter, softened (1 cube)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted powdered sugar (1 lb)
1 cup rice crispies
Milk chocolate for dipping

Mix peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Dough should be smooth and stiff but not too dry. Add rice crispies and mix gently until distributed. If you mix too much you'll crush them. Shape into balls and place on wax paper lined tray or cookie sheet. Chill thoroughly (I freeze them solid. Seriously, in the freezer for two days.). Prepare chocolate in a double boiler and dip chilled balls. You can drop, coat, and pull out with a spoon, leaving part of the peanut butter mixture exposed looking like a real buckeye nut. What we've found works best is to stick the frozen balls with a bamboo skewer, let drip, put onto wax paper, and pull out skewer. You can press the top to get rid of the little hole later. Return to wax paper and chill to set.