Training vs. life… and molten chocolate cake

How is it already Monday?

My day was made when I saw this video by my great friends at November Project. If you’ve never been, or don’t understand why I like going so much, this sums it up pretty well. It is fun and silly, and also kind of hard and makes me do and try things I never would on my own. And it helps a lot to be surrounded by wonderful people who hug and encourage and sweat it out next to you.

The song in this video is an instrumental version of “Run, run, run” by Michelle Lewis, which has become the de facto anthem of this year’s Boston Marathon. I tear up every time I hear it.

I was not at NP this morning, a fact that I regretted greatly when I read the blog and saw this sweet video. But sometimes, life happens. And it happened in a big way the last few days.

I planned all week to do a long run this past weekend. But there was a new dining room table being delivered, and coordinating with family to get the old one over to my sister’s. An old friend was in town, and we stayed up way too late Saturday night catching up. A yoga event Saturday with dear friends. And then, (surprise !) family in town and an invitation to Sunday dinner at my aunt’s. I spent a lot of time this weekend catching up with loved ones. I did not spend a lot of time running… I actually did not spend any time running.

It’s a hard thing to balance. I know I need to do a certain amount of training to get ready for August. But I’m also determined not to let training get in the way of the other great things in my life. I want to maintain my friendships, and catch up with family that I don’t get to see too often. I want to travel, to indulge in a nap on Saturday, to have dinner with friends. Friends, how do you strike that balance in life?


I did have a great run Friday with NP. This never gets old. 

In addition to an unexpectedly full weekend, I completely lost my #weatherproof mentality last week. It was cold and windy, and I had zero desire to be outside. So here’s the week:

Monday: bike 65 minutes
Tuesday: speed work at track, 3 miles
Wednesday: rest/ foam roll and stretch
Thursday: yoga, swim 1,600 yards
Friday: run hills, 5 miles
Saturday: bike 90 minutes
Sunday: yoga

Total: Run 8 miles, bike 155 minutes, swim 1600 yards, yoga x 2


It wouldn’t be a workout without a bit of extra NP spice.
Photo credit: Rosa Evora

This week’s swim workout focused on speed.

Warm up: 200 swim, 200 kick, 200 pull
Set: 8 x 100 freestyle on 2:00
I did the first 100 easy, then built on the second one (meaning I got faster each length), then easy, then an all out sprint. I did that twice. I hadn’t timed a 100-yard sprint in a long time, and did these on 1:24 which isn’t fast, but is good to know for a baseline.
Cool down: 200 pull
Total yards: 1,600

And a recipe… 

If you’re read this far, you deserve a treat. Namely, a wonderful molten chocolate cake that contains just four ingredients. You probably have everything you need to make this dessert in your kitchen right now: chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs.

You can mix the batter ahead of time and then pop the ramekins into the freezer until you’re ready to bake. They’ll last at least a week, maybe two, without serious damage. The easiest way to make the batter is in a double boiler. However, if you don’t have one, a mixing bowl set over a pot of water will do just fine.


Flourless molten chocolate cake
(Adapted from Eat Boutique)
makes 4

7 oz best-quality semisweet chocolate
6 Tablespoons butter
3 eggs, separated
3.5 oz sugar

Heat butter and sugar in a double boiler, stirring occasionally until chocolate is melted and butter is fully incorporated. Set aside.

Use a mixer to beat egg whites until frothy. Add sugar and beat until egg whites hold soft peaks.

Temper the egg yolks: add 1/4 cup of chocolate mixture to egg yolks and beat vigorously. Add yolk mixture to chocolate mixture and mix well. Then add chocolate mixture to egg whites and mix well.

Spoon mixture into four ramekins, or if you don’t have ramekins, sturdy, oven safe coffee cups. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least one hour. When ready to bake, remove plastic wrap, heat oven to 325 and bake for 30 minutes, until sides are set. Serve topped with ice cream, if you like.



Chocolate chip cookies

After almost 20 years of baking various chocolate chip cookie recipes, I’m pleased to announce that the search for a perfect formula is done. I’ve found it and I never, ever will stray from it. Thank you internet, thank you Twitter, thank you food blogs.

I’d about given up on baking cookies, except for at Christmas. While my affection for a chocolate chip cookie borders on psychotic, I’d never been able to make a truly stellar batch.  To me, a good chocolate chip cookie is crisp on the edges, and gooey in the middle, a bit sweet and a bit salty, the perfect foil for a steaming cup of coffee. Yet whenever I tried making them they came out flat, or all puffy and cake-y. Often, the dough tasted better than the finished product.

Then a few weeks ago a tweet caught my eye about recipes that took off because of the internet, or something to that effect, and because procrastination is my middle name, I clicked. There, buried between tomato sauce with butter and onion and kale chips, I spied what is supposedly the best chocolate chip recipe ever, according to the New York Times. Time stopped at that moment. Angels might have started singing. I had a list of home improvement projects and friends I hadn’t seen in weeks, but I knew that weekend I would devote myself to making these cookies.

Fortunately, the recipe for these is super simple, especially when weighing your ingredients on a scale as opposed to measuring in cups. I had time not only to make cookies, but to finish painting my foyer, try Area Four (not a fan), make a pork roast and do several loads of laundry that weekend.  And the cookies? O-M-G. They were everything you want in a cookie. Even my sister, who’s sweet tooth is almost non-existent, ate three of them.

The premise of the NY Times version of this cookie is that you have to let the dough rest before baking it. While I did that with half the batch and found it made a mighty fine cookie, the half that got cooked right away were nothing to scoff at. Also, this recipe calls for chocolate discs, but as I’d just invested in some Guittard chips, I decided to go with them, and they seemed perfectly suited.  Lastly, I kept forgetting to sprinkle salt over the cookies before I baked them, but the ones with salt were definitely better. So try not to forget, OK?

I also took a tip from Orangette and scooped the dough into cookie-sized balls before refrigerating it. Much easier. Also, it enabled me to have a plate of ready-to-bake cookies in the fridge all week. Friends coming over? No one wants to eat three-day-old cookies. Instead, pop a few in the oven 20 minutes before guests arrive. They will think you’re a saint. And your house will smell great.

Make these cookies. You belly will thank you. Your loved ones will thank you. The internet will probably thank you too.

Chocolate chip cookies
(adapted from NY Times)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces best-quality chocolate chips (at least 60 percent cocoa)
Sea salt to sprinkle

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl and set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, and add dry ingredients a little at a time, mixing until just combined.

Remove paddle attachment and add chocolate chips. Stir in with a wooden spoon (by this time the dough is likely too stiff for the paddle). Use an ice cream scoop to create balls of dough about 3 ounces each. Place on a plate or tray, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. Dough can be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and put dough balls on the pan (8 cookies on a standard-sized cookie sheet is about right). Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cook a few minutes in the pan before transferring to a wire rack.

Makes about 20 big cookies.

Six tips for better cakes

When it comes to dessert, it’s hard to beat a good layer cake. All that frosting and deliciousness can make even a ho-hum meal seem special.

I also happen to adore making them. Perhaps that’s the Type-A in me, but I love that with baking there’s a set of rules that one can follow to create something extraordinary. I love the ritual of sifting flour, and cutting parchment, mixing the dry ingredients separate from the wet ones and then mixing them together in batches. I love the whirl of my Kitchen Aid, and that magic moment when ingredients meld to become frosting. And I love the end result, sharing with friends and family, and sneaking a slice for breakfast (it’s just milk, eggs and flour).

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Flour Bakery Chef Joanne Chang about the cake she’s baking for Harvard’s 375th celebration next week. She was so nonchalant about baking a cake to feed 5,000 that it got me thinking about how practice really does make perfect.

Many of my friends seem befuddled over why one would take the time to bake a cake from scratch, given the proliferation of cheap boxed mixes at the market. For starters, it’s healthier- ever look at the list of ingredients, or the amount of sodium, on a boxed cake? But here’s the real reason: once you get it down, making a cake from scratch isn’t much harder than making a cake from a box. And the results are 100 percent more impressive.

To prove this, I’ve put together a few tips to help make your cake baking a success.

This is key to making sure your cake actually comes out of the pan in one piece. Yes, its a slight pain, but it’s the most foolproof method I’ve found. Can’t say that about PAM.

To do this, you need parchment paper (yes, this is different from wax paper). You’ll find it in the aluminum foil section of the grocery store. Trace the shape of your pan onto the paper with a pencil, and then cut out the shape INSIDE your outline. Set them aside, and then grease your pan using a bit of paper towel and butter. You want to make sure you have a thin, even layer of butter. Add your parchment paper to the pan (trim the parchment if needed), butter the parchment paper and then add a bit of flour to the pan and shake it vigorously to coat the inside of the pan evenly with flour. Need more guidance? Check out this post at Kitchen Generation.

Sifting adds air to your ingredients, making your cake lighter. It also helps your leaveners (the stuff, like baking soda, that makes your cake get all nice and fluffy) mix with the flour. Do it.

Eggs get the most volume when they’re beaten at room temperature. More volume= a lighter, fluffier cake.

Want even layers in your cake? Weigh the pans when you put the batter in. This ensures you have the same volume of batter in each pan.

This is step two in ensuring even layers. It also will help your cake bake evenly.

This helps your cake cool faster. You want cool layers before frosting, otherwise you’ll likely end up with a gloopy mess.

Ready to try your hand at cake baking? This is one of my all-time favorites to bake.

Chocolate Ganache Cake Recipe at

For a fancifully tall cake, we used 3 (7-inch) round pans. It can also be baked in 3 (8-inch) pans, though the cake will be slightly lower. We tested this recipe with several different brands of chocolate, and found Lindt and Ghirardelli had the best flavor for this particular cake.

Have a cake baking tip I’ve overlooked? Leave it below.