Sunday, February 21, 2010

Loving the Olympics

After how much I enjoyed the 2008 Summer Olympics, I wasn't sure how much I would get into the Winter Olympics. I really connect with some of the big summer sports like swimming and gymnastics because I used to participate in them - plus Beijing did such a great job with the whole presentation that I was afraid the next Olympics would be a letdown. But nope - Shaun and I were once again instantly sucked in and have been watching most of the primetime coverage every single night. Even the opening ceremony, with just a tenth of the budget that Beijing had, were pretty impressive. The killer whales "swimming" over the floor were awesome.

I love hearing the athletes' stories, and even though I don't usually follow them outside of the Olympics, I find myself rooting for them as if I've known them for years. I was so happy for Lindsey Vonn when she overcame injury to win the gold in the downhill. It was thrilling to watch Shaun White win the halfpipe on his first run, only to improve his score on the second by performing a Double McTwist 1260. Evan Lysacek became the first American men's figure skater to win the Olympics since Brian Boitano, and you could just tell how hard he had worked for it. (I also enjoyed watching him much more than the defending gold medalist, Yevgeny Plushenko, and was even happier that Lysacek won after seeing Plushenko's sore loser attitude afterward!) I know sports don't mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it's great to see the world come together, and the success of US athletes giving the country hope during difficult times.

Watching the Olympics also makes me miss competition. I was a fairly serious swimmer in high school and while I don't necessarily miss the 3 hours of practice a day, watching some of the races makes me wish I could try it again sometime. It's kind of funny, because I'm normally not a very intense or competitive person, but having someone in the lane next to me, making it a close race, would push me to swim faster than I ever could by myself. I wonder if I can take anything from that and apply it to my life

Anyway, I can't wait to see what the second week of the Olympics brings! Anyone else addicted? Favorite moments so far?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chocolate Overdose Cake

Long time no blog! Today's snow day (which, for most of Connecticut, was due to wildly overblown blizzard predictions - not that I'm complaining) let us have a nice lazy day, so now I'm trying to do something productive to make up for it. And I'm quite happy to share this cake with anyone who hasn't seen it yet. I've had it high on my to-try list for awhile but knew I'd need a special occasion. So a couple weeks ago I made it for our friend Rich in honor of a signed contract on his first house!

Not the prettiest picture (how often have I said that?) - I think it may have been better to refrigerate it after putting the ganache on, to let it solidify a bit before cutting, but we couldn't wait that long!

This was so incredibly good. From top to bottom that's a brownie layer, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, and ganache. And I almost never say this about desserts, but even for a chocolate lover like me, this was almost too rich! I think I might recommend scaling down the ganache amount, or trying a lighter chocolate frosting and then drizzling a little ganache on top. There are a lot of steps involved, but trust me, the end result is worth it.

Chocolate Overdose Cake (from Annie's Eats)

For the brownie base:
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. cake flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 1/8 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the chocolate mousse filling:
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, broken into 1/2-oz. pieces
1 7/8 cups heavy cream
1 tbsp. sugar

For the chocolate cake:
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/8 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1/4 cup hot water
7/8 cup sugar, divided
7/8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, soft

For the ganache:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
18 oz. semisweet chocolate, broken into 1/2-oz. pieces

To make the brownie base, line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with a round of parchment paper and spray the sides with nonstick cooking spray. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, salt and baking powder. Stir with a fork to mix. Melt the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth.

When the chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove the bowl from the saucepan and gradually whisk in the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add in the flour mixture in two additions, folding with a rubber spatula until completely homogeneous.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Set aside, prepare the cake batter, and bake the two layers at the same time.

To make the cake, line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with a round of parchment paper. Grease and flour the sides of the pan. Combine the chocolate, cocoa and hot water in a medium heatproof bowl; set the bowl over a saucepan containing 1-inch of simmering water and stir with a rubber spatula until chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes. (Note: at this point, my mixture was pretty thick and I thought I had ruined it, but mixing in the sugar was like magic and it made it smooth and liquidy again.) Add 1/4 cup of sugar to the chocolate mixture and stir until thick and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and yolks on medium-low speed until combined, about 10 seconds. Add remaining sugar, increase speed to high, and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Replace whisk with paddle attachment.

Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg/sugar mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly incorporated, 30-45 seconds, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing about 10 seconds after each addition. Add about one third of the flour mixture followed by half of the buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated after each addition (about 15 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture (batter may appear separated). Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Pour into prepared pan; smooth batter to edges of pan with an offset spatula.

Bake the brownie and cake layers at the same time: the brownie for 25-30 minutes and the cake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire cooling rack. Allow the brownie to cool completely in the pan. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto the wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Once the brownie layer has cooled, run a knife around the edges to separate it from the pan. Remove the sides of the springform but leave the brownie layer on the springform base. Form a ring of parchment paper around the brownie layer and extending up the sides of the springform pan – reclose the springform so that the parchment is fitted tightly to the sides.

To make the chocolate mousse filling, place a stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer or fridge. Heat 1-inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat. Place the semisweet chocolate in the top half of the double boiler. Tightly cover the top with plastic wrap and allow to heat for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Transfer the melted chocolate to a stainless steel bowl and set aside until needed.

Place heavy cream and sugar in the well-chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the chilled whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer. By hand, whisk to combine 1/4 of the whipped cream into the melted chocolate until smooth and completely incorporated. Add the combined whipped cream and chocolate to the remaining whipped cream and use a rubber spatula to fold together.

Spread the mousse over the top of the brownie base evenly. Use an offset spatula to smooth the top. Place the cooled cake round over the mousse, pressing down lightly. Chill for at least 1 hour.

To make the ganache, heat the heavy cream and the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. Place the semisweet chocolate in a 3-quart stainless steel bowl. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Chill 1 cup of ganache for 1 hour. Allow the remaining ganache to come to room temperature (about 40 minutes).

Remove the springform ring and parchment collar from the assembled cake. Carefully transfer the cake to a serving platter, removing the springform base and parchment round. Use a spatula to smooth the room temperature ganache over the cake top and sides, covering evenly.

Place the chilled ganache in a pastry bag fitted with a shell tip and pipe a shell border around the base of the cake. Pipe 12-16 rosettes around the top of the cake to indicate servings. Serve chilled and store leftovers in the fridge. Cut the cake with a hot, dry knife.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bye for now, Conan

I started this post almost a week ago but then wasn't sure if I wanted to finish it, because I'm sure most people are over the whole late night fiasco. But then I figured, I wrote it, I might as well share it. So, one more time, and then I'll shut up about the whole thing, at least until Conan gets another show...

I was so sad to watch Conan sign off last Friday night. Almost a year ago I wrote a post about his last Late Night show, and while that was sad in a way, there was at least the guarantee that he would be back in 3 months to host the Tonight Show. This time, nothing is certain, though I am hopeful that by September we'll see him somewhere on TV again.

I'm still annoyed about the whole situation, however. In 2004, NBC made the decision to hand the Tonight Show over to Conan in 2009, and Leno appeared to go along with this and announce it on his show, claiming to want a smooth transition, unlike the Carson/Leno/Letterman debacle in the 90s. Now, of course, people are claiming that Leno was forced out by NBC - well, if that was the case, he should have made his feelings known, like Conan did with his statement, or gone to a competitor. Letterman put it best when he said (and I'm paraphrasing), "When they tell you Conan's going to take over your job, you leave, you don't hang around in the lobby." But Leno did hang around, and NBC decided to stick him at 10:00...and obviously that didn't work. NBC made another poor decision by hatching the plan that Leno would move his show to 11:35 and Conan's Tonight Show would air at 12:05 (the next day, not "Tonight"!). But once again, instead of bowing out gracefully like he said he would 5 years ago, Leno stayed in there after Conan refused to move his timeslot.

Conan said he based his decision on the reasons of the Tonight Show legacy and the potential effect on Jimmy Fallon's ratings, which are completely valid and thoughtful reasons. I just don't get why Leno is willing to come back and look like the bad guy who forced Conan out of a job - the job he appeared to hand over willingly. What is the hold Leno has on NBC that they're willing to just forget Conan - who was the reigning host of the Tonight Show?! - and completely neglect the fact that his entire staff moved from New York to Los Angeles for this...and that they built a brand new studio...? I've never thought Leno was particularly funny - to each his own, but Conan is much more my style. I tolerated Leno before, but I'm done now. I will never voluntarily watch any of his shows again, and if I weren't hooked on so many other NBC shows I'd stop watching the network altogether. I enjoyed this tweet from a mock Twitter account for Jeff Zucker, the NBC president (Twitter has since required this person to add "fake" to his account name.): @jzucker_ceo: New Tonight Show ride at Universal Studios! You stand in line until it's your turn, then you let the last guy go again.

On a positive note, Conan's last Tonight Show had some awesome moments (I know I'm going link crazy in this post, so I won't link to each segment - they should be easy to find on Hulu though!). The montage set to "Surrender" was so much fun - and that song will forever remind me of the opening to his June 1st show when he "forgot" to move to L.A. and ran across the country. The song choices of "Long May You Run" by Neil Young and "Free Bird" by Will Ferrell were perfectly appropriate and meaningful for the occasion, and Tom Hanks was delightful as usual. But I think my favorite part was when Conan gave a little speech at the end, saying how much the Tonight Show experience had meant to him and how much he appreciated the support of his fans. I posted this quote from him on Facebook and got the most comments/likes I've had in quite awhile: "Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen."

Aside from finding Conan completely hilarious, I also think he seems like a really good guy who cares about his staff and his audience. His advice is definitely something I need to take to heart right now, because I can see myself getting cynical about certain things and feeling like "nice guys finish last" is a true statement lately. But I'm sure he'll find success again, and I'll try to follow that lead, in my own way. Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to when Conan can again make me laugh at the end of a long day. See ya in September, CoCo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This Too Shall Pass... the name of a song off the new OK Go album. I'm not super familiar with their music, but I thought "Here It Goes Again" (with the popular Treadmill Video) was fun and catchy. During the 2008 football season the ND marching band did a halftime show with their own version of "Here It Goes Again" - complete with treadmills - and it apparently caught the attention of OK Go. And that is why the ND band ended up in the music video for "This Too Shall Pass" (sans the real Notre Dame uniforms, if anyone was wondering - apparently it was a copyright problem for the ND logo or something):

OK Go - This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.

Not your typical music video, that's for sure. But it had some fun surprises - and how awesome is it that they managed to get it in one continuous shot? (I wonder how many tries that took...) A fellow drummer alum had sent out an email in the fall saying that the band would be part of the music video, but I had no idea they'd be such a big part! It must have been a blast to film. In addition to making me super nostalgic for my marching band days, the song also makes me content. It has a great that I should really listen to more often.

Oh yeah, and if you liked it, you can go to and get a free MP3 of the audio from the video!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Back to the busy TV season!

I'm so excited for this week! After almost 9 months away, Chuck returns tonight for season 3. Season 2 just came out on DVD/Blu-ray on Tuesday, so Shaun and I have been squeezing in an episode or two each night this week. Unfortunately we haven't had quite enough time to make it through the whole season, but it's been a nice little appetizer for the main course. And what a main course it is - 2 hours tonight at 9 EST and an hour tomorrow in its regular timeslot at 8 EST. Watch it!

And then Tuesday night is the season premiere of American Idol! As much as I've enjoyed it since I started watching it in season 4 (the year Carrie Underwood won), I'm prepared for the show to have a different feel this year with Ellen replacing Paula. And based on the rumors about Simon leaving Idol after this year, I'm prepared for it to be the last season. It wouldn't be the same show without him. But that's okay with me, to be honest...I could stand to cut down on my TV schedule! But for now I'm happy to have some distractions to get me through this long, dark, cold part of the year.

However, I am a little annoyed about some TV news that popped up within the past few days - the news that Leno will not be on at 10pm anymore after the Olympics, and that the current proposal is to move him back to 11:35 for a half hour show, pushing Conan's Tonight Show to 12:05 and Jimmy Fallon's Late Night to 1:05. I'm obviously biased because of my affinity for Conan (and my belief that Leno's humor is not nearly as funny), but I think this is an insult to Conan. If Leno's show failed, why should he be rewarded by (mostly) getting his old job back? Why should Conan be punished by being pushed later? Sure, his ratings are lower than Leno's were because of his quirky brand of humor, and maybe NBC jumped the gun by planning his move to the Tonight Show (and Leno's retirement) 5 years in advance, but that's their fault. They gave Conan the contract.

Leno should just quit pulling a Brett Favre and retire already. (Although on that subject, I couldn't stay mad at Brett Favre, seeing how far he's gotten the Vikings this season!) The one advantage to this scenario though is that Leno's move will open up 5 more hours of primetime on NBC, thus making a Chuck renewal more of a sure thing than last year, hopefully. They'll be looking for shows to fill their lineup instead of determining which ones to cut. I really need a job in TV, don't I... I feel like I talk about it way more than a normal person should!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009...over already?

I know it's a little late, but I still wanted to continue the tradition of writing a recap of the previous year - one that I've had ever since I kept a "real" journal in high school . It was a change of pace approaching this year though, because unlike recent years, there wasn't really a defining event. Ever since college there's been something big - in 2004 I graduated and got my first 2005 Shaun graduated and moved to Iowa to be with 2006 we moved to Connecticut and got 2007 we bought our townhouse...and in 2008 we got married. 2009, by comparison, was pretty uneventful. Despite that, 2009 seems to have gone incredibly quickly and is starting to become a blur. With the help of past entries I'll just try to quickly pick out a few highlights and try not to bore anyone too much.

In March, Shaun, Rich and I took a trip to Philadelphia where we met up with John and Sarah from DC, Ben from southern PA, Ben from Delaware and we stayed with Matt and Jess. Though these weekends go by way too quickly, I always appreciate a chance to see our friends, and something to look forward to that breaks up the monotony of workweek upon workweek. Philly's a fun city and hopefully we'll make it back again this year.

In June, Shaun and I celebrated our first anniversary with a concert, movie, dinner and cake.

In July, we took a trip to Minnesota - if I remember correctly, it was the first time we'd seen my family since the previous Thanksgiving, so that was really nice. On top of that, Rich came out with us and John and Sarah flew in to see a bit of the Twin Cities and catch a Twins game during the last baseball season at the Metrodome. I really enjoyed the chance to show my friends around my hometown, and it was so great to see my family - and meet my new second cousin, Brynn.

In August, my best friend from Notre Dame, Lauren, came up from Atlanta to visit. We spent a sticky summer day in NYC and then brought her up to our neck of the woods to show her where we've been hanging out the past few years. I wish we lived closer together, but I truly appreciate the fact that we've done a great job of staying connected over the years, despite the distance.

September was a busy month with a trip to Notre Dame over Labor Day weekend (for what seemed like the only easy win of the season...oh what a difference 3 months makes). A couple weeks later, we headed down to DC with Rich to see John and Sarah and had a blast, as always, with a mix of running around the city and just sitting around playing games and talking.

We made another trip to Penn State in October for a football game and had fun hanging out with the PA crowd, despite the chilly temperatures. At the end of October, I flew out to the Quad Cities, and on November 2, I got LASIK. It's pretty amazing to be able to see in the shower every morning, and fall asleep watching TV in bed...I know it hasn't been long, but hopefully I'll be just as happy with the surgery in the years to come.

Right after Thanksgiving, I went on my first major work trip to Chicago, and the break from the office combined with the chance to see family and friends made for a great time. For Christmas, Shaun and I made our way to Minnesota and enjoyed relaxing with family and watching the snow fall. I realized that I saw my parents 3 times within about 2 months this fall/winter...that's the most often I've seen them since I moved out here 3 years ago. I wish it were financially possible to keep up that schedule!

We closed out 2009 with two New Year's Eve parties - a first for us homebodies. We started out the evening with our friends Bill and Amanda, then headed over to Shaun's sister Karen's for a party with extended family. Our brother-in-law Don got Rock Band 2 for Christmas, so the whole crowd had quite a bit of fun trying out the different parts - though of course no one was a match for Shaun's drumset skills!

I know that flipping the calendar doesn't mean everything is going to change, but there are some things I really hope to accomplish (well, one in particular), and I'm hopeful that I'll find some success in 2010. There were some rough moments last year that I didn't really get into on here because, well, I don't want to be a Debbie Downer. (I'd be griping all the time otherwise, and no one wants that...I'll just do some 'splainin' when the news gets better!) I'm so fortunate to have my husband, family and friends - that's what's important, and I'll figure the rest out soon enough.

Hopefully it's not too late to wish you a Happy New Year - may 2010 bring you everything you're wishing for!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Trip '09

Though we were frustrated by our change in itinerary and the loss of a day on our trip, there was one advantage - our layover in Atlanta was 3.5 hours, so we had time to visit my aunt and cousin who moved there in the fall from Minnesota. They live right by the airport, so my aunt picked us up, then we grabbed some pizza and went back to her apartment. My cousin Emily, her boyfriend Joe and the kids came over and we had a nice dinner together.

Emily and Timmy...I can't believe he'll be 2 in January!

Shaun with Brynn...she was a little unsure about us. It's crazy how different she looks from the last time we saw her, when she was just about a month old.

After a visit to the roof of their apartment building to watch a few planes land, we made our way back to the airport and had a smooth flight to the Quad Cities. On Monday morning, we went out to breakfast with my mom, stopped by my aunt and uncle's house for a few minutes, and then went to my LASIK followup appointment. The doctor I saw said everything looked good. I'm still seeing halos at night, but he said they still consider you to be healing for the first 3 months, so he's not concerned at this point. After my appointment we loaded up my mom's car and made the 6 hour drive to the Twin Cities - between our luggage and all the presents and food my mom had (plus the dog), it's amazing we all fit into her little Nissan Versa!

Most of the week was just spent relaxing at home. We did make it out to a couple of movies though - Shaun, Laura and I saw Avatar in 3D and it was awesome, and all five of us saw Did You Hear About the Morgans? - which was kinda predictable, but not bad. It started snowing on Wednesday night and didn't stop until well after Shaun and I left on Saturday. Because of that I didn't attempt to make plans with friends, but that was okay, because I really appreciated the time just watching movies and playing games with my family. Laura and I even busted out the VHS tape with a couple of our favorite old-school Christmas specials (A Muppet Family Christmas and A Garfield Christmas Special, complete with 80s commercials!).

Anyway, here was our view on Christmas dreaming necessary; it was very much a white Christmas.

Stockings for all

Ruby had to put on her Christmas sweater to go was cold!

Setting the table for Christmas dinner, pretending I'm not paying attention to the photographer (and showing off one of my gifts - a sheer cardigan from my mom)

Never too many pictures of a cute dog

In contrast to our July Minnesota trip where we were constantly running around, this visit was a really nice change of pace. Unfortunately it still seemed to go by way too quickly. It definitely helped though that on Sunday, the day after we got back, we got to celebrate Christmas again with Shaun's family with presents, dinner, and some Catch Phrase.

I'm sure it's common, but I always get a little bummed after the holidays. I have to kind of wean myself off of Christmas music (hopefully by New Year's), and I start to dread the long winter months of January through March. I just have to remind myself of the fun things coming up in the year ahead, like going back to MN for Laura's college graduation in May, hopefully going to Florida for my cousin Amy's wedding over Memorial Day weekend, and some more trips in the late summer/fall if we can swing it. And in the meantime, my big TV season will keep me occupied on the dark, cold winter evenings, with Chuck and American Idol starting the second week of January. It's the little things, right?

I'll probably be back over the weekend with some kind of 2009 recap post...for now, Happy New Year everyone!