March 24, 2016

Classic baked ziti

I recently made classic baked ziti from The Food Lab: Better Cooking Through Science.

As you can see, the dish I used for this wasn't quite big enough. I ended up having to stick a cookie sheet underneath while it was cooking because it was bubbling over! I need to get a bigger baking dish...because I will be making this again.

Dave has already declared that he would eat this every night. It's very tasty and very easy. The recipe uses an interesting technique. Instead of boiling the pasta before you bake it, you soak it. A pound of pasta gets soaked in hot salted water for thirty minutes, drained, and added to the rest of the ingredients. Brilliant! This makes things so much easier, and the texture of the pasta in the finished dish was great.

YUM. I didn't use ziti. I used penne instead. It really doesn't matter. I'll make this again, but I won't make it often. There's a pound of mozzarella, 12 ounces of ricotta, and a cup and a half of Parmigiano Reggiano in there. Also: heavy cream. SO GOOD.

March 18, 2016

Hopewell Furnace

Last weekend Dave and I went to Hopewell Furnace. If you're like everyone I told about this, you're asking, "What's Hopewell Furnace?" That's a shame because it's a really neat place, and I liked it a lot. More people should check it out.

Hopewell Furnace is a National Historic Site, part of the National Park Service. It was the site of an "iron plantation" from the late-1700s through late-1800s. So it has historic buildings like an ironworks, a barn, a blacksmith shop, and worker housing, as well miles of trails on its 848 acres.

Our first stop was the visitor center, and we all know what I got there...


We talked to a very friendly park ranger, who told us about the park and gave us a map. When he said the park had three stamps- one for the park itself, one for the NPS Centennial, and one for the Schuykill River NHA, I heard Dave stifle a laugh. He knew I'd be excited about that. The visitor's center had a little museum area that explained what went on at the site. Something I thought was really cool was that it was equal pay for equal work- women not only did the same jobs as the men but got paid the same, too. In the 1700-1800s! Map in hand, we went exploring.

Looking back toward the visitor's center, which is up the hill

You can go inside most of the buildings, and there are horses, sheep, and bulls, too. I think my favorite thing in the buildings was the water wheel in the cast house.

Hopewell Furnace is right next to French Creek State Park, so we walked the trails around the lake there before heading home. I enjoyed my trip to Hopewell Furnace. It was a great snapshot of life at that time and the Industrial Revolution. The beautiful weather provided a perfect day to walk around exploring.

March 12, 2016

Caramel apple cake

Last weekend I made caramel apple cake from Baked Explorations. I don't know what to say other than: DELICIOUS.

Don't let the photos deceive you. It's a universally known fact that I can't ice a cake. Or frost a cake. Whatever you want to call it- I have problems. This was a dense three layer cake made with applesauce. It had a wonderful flavor of apple and cinnamon, and it was very moist.

The buttercream was a caramel buttercream. The recipe called for making caramel sauce and gave a way to eyeball it if you didn't have a thermometer...That didn't turn out too well for me. I ended up with a giant hard ball of mess! So I ran out to the store to buy caramel sauce while the cake layers were cooling. The buttercream was good, but I bet it would be even better with homemade caramel sauce. I need to get a thermometer.

I brought the cake over to my parents' house, and it was a big hit. My grandfather ate two pieces! This is a definite make-again cake.

March 6, 2016

2016 Philadelphia Flower Show

My mom and I made our annual trip to the Philly Flower Show yesterday. This year's theme was Explore America and focused on national parks and the National Park Service.

I was incredibly excited for this year's show. I'm a big fan of the NPS. We live in a beautiful country, and the National Park Service protects that natural beauty, along with historic and culturally important sites. I even have a National Parks Passport.

The book is divided into regions. When you visit a national park or historic site or heritage area, they usually have a stamp at the visitor's center.

You stamp your book with the park's stamp- the rangers already have it set to the correct date. The Philly Flower Show had a special stamp, so you know I was dorkily excited about that.

Why two of the same? The Flower Show was supposed to have two separate stamps, and when I saw two stamps at the ranger station, I thought they were it. After asking at three different places and getting help from a very friendly park ranger, it seems that this was the only stamp to be had- even though it wasn't the stamp used in the promo materials.

Anyway, that is enough about my NPS stamp obsession. The show was fantastic. It was one of my favorites of all time. The exhibitors got very creative in expressing the national parks they chose to highlight. And, as always, the flowers were beautiful.

It was noticeably brighter this year in the Convention Center. In previous years, it had been quite dark- almost hard to see. This year, the lighting was still subdued, but it was bright enough to clearly see the exhibits. That was a welcome change.

I had a really great time. I think this was my second favorite. Paris is still my first. If you're around Philly, I highly recommend checking it out.
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