September 25, 2013

Yellow cake with fluffy chocolate frosting

A good friend of mine recommended Flour, Joanne Chang's cookbook.  The recipes aren't basic, but the instructions are excellent.  The results are delicious.

I don't have this cookbook, but I found its recipe for yellow cake with fluffy chocolate frosting on the Serious Eats website.  It's a yellow cake with a buttercream frosting.

I am picky about icing on cake.  I don't like it too sweet.  Most of the time, a large portion of cake frosting stays on my otherwise empty plate.  This frosting was perfect.  It was chocolately and not too sweet, flavored by adding a chocolate ganache to the buttercream base.

The cake itself was moist and tasty.  My friend was right.  This is probably the best yellow cake I've ever had.

September 21, 2013

Bushkill weekend

I recently went up to Bushkill with my cousin for the weekend.  Bushkill is in the Delaware Water Gap.  It's a beautiful area where the Delaware River cuts through the mountains on the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  We drove up on Saturday and headed to Childs Park to hike.  My cousin and I are both photographers, so we brought along cameras and tripods to capture the waterfalls.  Hiking up and down steep slopes, rocky terrain, and endless stairs over two days with both a camera bag and a tripod bag slung across my body was certainly motivation to work out more.  

At the entrance to Childs Park was this sign:

Try to look large??
I had laughed off the bear warnings said to me before I left, so I was amused that there was a big bear warning sign right at the front of the trail.  My cousin suggested taking the above photo.  We hit the restrooms before going out on the trails.  I say restrooms, but they were more like giant, permanent porta potties.  I had never seen bathrooms like these.  I looked down into the toilet, and it was like looking into the abyss.  It was deep, like the oubliette from Labyrinth.  Weird.  We didn't have all that much time before it got dark, but we managed to see the three waterfalls of Childs Park with time to photograph Deer Leap Falls, the farthest of the waterfalls from the entrance, before having to leave.  

We had dinner at a pub and headed back to the house.  By this time, the temperature had dropped.  It was a nice, chilly evening.  It was the kind of night that makes me want to sit outside by a fire.  There weren't many lights, so the sky was filled with stars.  It was beautiful.  Arriving at the house, we frightened a deer and her fawn who were hanging out in the front yard.  My cousin and I are also both equestrians, so she had to show me that the cable at the house had a horse channel.  A HORSE CHANNEL.  Our local cable company doesn't have this channel.  We stayed up late watching eventing.  It was the cross country phase, and it was fantastic.  

The next day we got up early because we wanted to pack in a lot of stuff.  We ended up only getting a few hours of sleep because we had stayed up so late watching eventing.  My cousin and I went to Childs Park again to explore different trails from the day before and take more photos.  We climbed out on some rocks and took photos of Factory Falls, the biggest waterfall of the park.  

Factory Falls
Photographing waterfalls can be tricky because they reflect a lot of light, especially when it is sunny.  Also, the best time of year to shoot them is really in the spring, when the snow melt off of the mountains makes them gush with more water.  

It was time to leave Childs Park and go to the stable, where my cousin had scheduled a lunchtime ride for the two of us.  Although I used to ride all the time, it had been quite some time since I had been on a horse.  I rode Johnny.  The trail was hilly and rocky, and we crossed through a couple of streams.  

Riding a horse is like riding a bike- it all comes back once you're in the saddle.  How could I forget that riding is the greatest thing in the world?  How could I forget that being on a horse makes me happier than just about anything else possibly could?  Riding is pure bliss.  It goes without saying that I had a great time on this trail ride, right?  

After our ride, it was time to hike Bushkill Falls.  Bushkill Falls is a huge park with a handful of waterfalls and several trails.  The trails are rated by intensity, so of course we chose the most difficult trail that had warning signs about how difficult it was.  However, going on the most difficult trail meant that we were rewarded with sights like this:

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls was my favorite of all the waterfalls I saw that weekend, and it could only be seen from the "Red Trail."  My cousin pointed out that they sell shirts in the gift shop that say "I survived the Red Trail at Bushkill Falls."  Truthfully, it wasn't that bad, but with all the hiking we had done the previous day as well as that morning plus the additional weight of camera bag and tripod, we were beat once we got back to the entrance.  We were there until the park closed that evening.  The Red Trail had the advantage of being far less crowded than the other trails.  A strange thing happens when you have a nice camera and there are groups of people around.  They ask you to use their cameras or phones to take pictures of their group.  I took at least five pictures for different groups of people.  My cousin was asked to take photos, too.  I don't mind at all, I just think it's funny.  

Bushkill Falls was gorgeous- not just the waterfalls, but the streams and the woods and all of the scenery.  I could have stayed longer.  My cousin wants us to go back soon.  I'm in.  

September 12, 2013

Tea biscuit attempt number four - they finally taste delicious

It is time to chronicle attempt number four in the continuing saga of finding a recipe for tea biscuits similar to those made by Termini's in Philadelphia.  I'm happy to say, attempt number four's tea biscuits are good!  They are the first I've made that I'm going to eat more than one.  Okay, I'm going to have several.  The taste is excellent.  The texture is good.  There is still something missing, but I can't figure out what it is yet.

To recap, Termini's tea biscuits are sweet, not savory.  I've never had anything like them outside of the Philadelphia/South Jersey area.  I made up the recipe myself, building on the recipe I invented for tea biscuit attempt number three.  This time the dough was much easier to work with.  It was a little sticky, but I could still work it with my floured hands.  I could cut it easily with the biscuit cutter, too.  I upped the amount of sugar and vanilla extract.  I cut the amount of whole eggs and substituted egg yolks.  I think these factors made a huge difference.  I left out the raisins again, but those would be an easy addition at the end.

I'm very pleased with how these turned out.  They may not be Termini's tea biscuits exactly, but they are good in their own right.  I'd make them again.  Don't just take my word for it.  I gave them to my father, for whom I've been on this quest to find the recipe.  He ate one.  He said what a great job I did.  Then he immediately ate a second one.

I got about a dozen tea biscuits out of this recipe.  Yes, those are tablespoons of baking powder and vanilla extract; that is not a typo.  I usually only put one cookie sheet in the oven at a time.  After the first one went in the oven, I balled up the dough and wrapped it in wax paper to throw in the refrigerator until it was time to reroll it for the second sheet's biscuits.

5 cups flour
a large pinch of salt
1 stick butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 whole egg (plus an additional egg for the egg wash)
4 egg yolks
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tbs baking powder
1 cup sugar
2 tbs vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2.  Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to mix together.  Add the chilled butter and pulse to cut the butter into the flour mixture.
3.  In a medium bowl, whisk milk with one whole egg and four egg yolks.  Make sure the eggs are thoroughly mixed with the milk.  Stir in the vanilla extract.
4.  Transfer the flour mixture to a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour the milk mixture into the well.  Use a fork to bring the dough together.
5.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it together.  Roll it out or pat it out with floured hands to about 3/4 of an inch thick.  Use a three inch biscuit cutter to cut out biscuits and transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
6.  Beat the final egg for an egg wash.  Brush the top of the biscuits with the egg wash and bake for 12 minutes, until the tops are browned and the biscuits are baked through.  Transfer biscuits to a wire rack to cool.

September 5, 2013

Jim Thorpe

I recently drove up to Jim Thorpe, a small town in the Pocono Mountains.  I hadn't been there in years, but I always enjoyed it when my aunt lived near there and I visited.

looking down over Jim Thorpe
The town is nestled in a valley and sits next to the Lehigh River.  I parked by the river and walked around for a couple of hours.  

the Lehigh
It was a nice day- surprisingly warm for the Poconos in September.  I wandered in and out of the little shops on the main street of the town.  Me being me, I had to hit the used bookstore, in which I met the used bookstore cat.  This cat was content to lie sleepily on a chair while I pet him.  He did not have any book recommendations.  I also had to stop in a coffee shop while I was there.  This one was filled with Beatles art. 

I would have spent more time walking around, but half the shops were closed.  I drove up to a lookout point on a mountain near Jim Thorpe.  There I met two nice, retired gentlemen who were quite chatty.  One of them used to be a history teacher, so he gladly shared all the local history with me- Asa Packer, Mauch Chunk, Jim Thorpe (the person), and various other tidbits about things like zinc mining.  I like history, so it was interesting to me.  I'm glad I met them.  The view was fantastic from up there, too.  

The area around Jim Thorpe is beautiful.  There is something very soothing to me about being in the mountains.  Mountains make me happy, be they tiny mountains like the Poconos or giant mountains like the Rockies.  

September 2, 2013

Chocolate mint thumbprints

I made chocolate mint thumbprints last night.  I did this because I lost one of my cookbooks.  Let me explain.  At one time in my life, I had the cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  They have a bakery in Brooklyn named Baked.  I thought I knew the location of all of my cookbooks, but I couldn't find this one.  (I live out of boxes right now.  It can be a pain.)  I still can't find it, so I think I need to write it off as lost forever.  Anyway, I was googling Baked and its two sequel cookbooks, and I came across this recipe from Baked Explorations.  I like mint and chocolate together, so I thought I'd give it a go.

YUM.  They turned out much better than I thought they would.  They are absolutely delicious.  I did change one thing in the recipe.  It originally called for a white chocolate ganache filling.  I switched it to dark chocolate.  My technique for making the indentations in the cookies got better as I went along, so next time should be much easier.  

The cookie and the ganache both have chocolate and mint.  The mint in the cookie part is subtle, while the mint in the ganache is strong.  This was the first time I've used peppermint extract.  I found an interesting warning on the bottle.  

Avoid direct contact with mouth?
The cookies were good last night, but they were even better after chilling overnight in the fridge.  Yes, I did have cookies for breakfast this morning.  There is nothing wrong with that.  
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