German chocolate cake you’ll love

German chocolate cake you’ll love

This fairly easy recipe is a simplification of the one on the Bakers German Chocolate bar. We show you a few shortcuts. Some people make this light cake and just decorate it with the coconut-pecan topping. We do that but ice the sides with chocolate buttercream icing to hold it all together.

  • 4 egg whites
  • 4 oz German Sweet Chocolate
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz) softened unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 280 g cake flour (2 ½ cups sifted)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 lined 8” cake pans
  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F
  2. Beat the egg whites in your mixer until stiff. Remove to another bowl until needed.

3. Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer

4. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition.

5. Put the chocolate in a bowl with the water and heat in a microwave for about 90 seconds until melted. Stir until uniform.

6. Add the vanilla to the sugar-butter mixture and beat in the chocolate.

7. You don’t really need to sift and measure the flour, as we described in this article. One cup of sifted cake flour weights 112g, so just weigh 280 grams (which is 2 1/2  cups sifted) into a bowl and add the soda and salt. Stir briefly to mix.

8. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.

9. Fold in the egg whites by mixing in ¼ of them and then folding the rest in using a rubber spatula, dipping a turning the blade to mix in the whites without deflating them.

10. Line the 3 cake pans with parchment using the technique we described here. Butter the pans and the parchment.

11. You now need to separate the batter into 3 equal parts. We do this by weight. The stand mixer bowl and contents weighed 3606g, and we know the empty bowl weights 1014g, so the contents weighed 1578g. Thus, we need to put 526g of batter in each of the 3 cake pans. We put each cake pan on the scale, press the tare button to zero it, and add 526g of batter. The third pan is always a little short because some batter sticks to the sides and to the spatula. So we steal a little from each of the other two pans to make them about even. It is still easier than eyeballing it!

12. Bake the cake in the pans for 30-35 minutes, until the cake starts to pull away from the edge, and a toothpick comes out clean.

3 baked

13. Let the cakes cool on a cooling rack, and then take the cakes out of the pans and let them cool completely.

Cake Filling

  • 8 oz evaporated milk (This is 1 1/3 6 oz cans)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 beaten egg yolks
  • ½ cup butter (1 stick) cut up
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/3 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  1. Combine the evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Stir constantly to avoid burning.
  2. Allow the liquid to come to a slow boil but keep stirring to avoid sticking.
  3. Remove from heat and add the coconut and pecans.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator until cool enough to spread.

Buttercream frosting

  • 2 lb confectioners sugar
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) butter, cut up
  • ¼ cup milk (approximately)
  • 3 oz baking chocolate
  1. Combine the sugar and butter in a food processor and pulse until mixed.
  2. Add the milk until spreadable
  3. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for about 1.5 minutes at 50% power. Stir until uniform and then add to the buttercream mixture and pulse until uniform. This will make more frosting than you need, but you will use about ¾ of it.

Assembling the cake

It is easiest to ice the cake on a little rotating cake platform, but if you do, be sure to start with a cake cardboard under cake, as the layers are delicate and won’t pick up easily to move to a cake cover later.

  1. Place one solid layer on the bottom and carefully ice it with the filling. If the filling is too cold to spread, warm it for 15 sec on the microwave.
  2. Place a second layer on top and ice it either with the chocolate buttercream frosting or with the filling. You will have plenty of both. Place the third layer on top and ice the top with the filling.
  3. If any of the sides protrude, trim them off so the sides are relatively uniform. Ice the sides with the chocolate buttercream, using a spatula dipped in milk to smooth the outside of the cake. Let it dry for half an hour before serving.

sliced

 

 

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A quick way to line cake pans

A quick way to line cake pans

Most cake recipes suggest you line the bottom of your cake pans with waxed paper (old school) or baking parchment (new school). Well tracing and cutting out those circles for 2 or 3 cake pans is a lot of trouble. Here’s an easier way.

pan and parchment

Cut a square of baking parchment, a bit bigger than you cake pan. For 8” cakes, cut a 9” or 10”  square. It doesn’t have to be very accurate or even square: a rectangle will do just fine. We’ll cut off the excess as we go along.

Fold the square diagonally so that the left edge meets the top edge.  This establishes that square. Any left on the bottom will be cut off.

Fold that triangle in half down the middle.

Then, keep folding down the middle until you have a little pointed triangle.

Lay that triangle on the bottom of the cake pan with the point at the center, and cut off the triangle at the edge of the pan.

Then, unfold it. It should be a circle that will just fit in your cake pan. If it is a little big, just refold it and cut off a little more.

lined pan

Then, butter the pan, lay the liner inside, and butter it, too.  That’s really easy. I did all 3 cake pans in about a minute! See the top picture for all three!

The new Nikon Z6 versus the D7200

The new Nikon Z6 versus the D7200

Nikon’s new Z6 camera is the first of their mirror less full-frame cameras. It’s nominally a 24 megapixel camera much like my recent D7200. But while the D7200 is a DX format with a sensor that is 24  x 16 mm. The new Nikon Z6 has a full frame sensor of 24 x 36 mm, but with the same megapixel resolution. Is it better or just more expensive? All reports seem to indicate that the larger, sharper pixels.

z6 and adapter

The Z6 is a camera you can enjoy handling. It is about 3 oz lighter than the D7200 (both with their default kit zoom lens) and much thinner. It is very easy to hold. Unlike the D7200, the Z6 has no built-in flash, but that is no great loss because the built in flash on all these cameras isn’t that great. But the flash connector works fine with my SB-800 flash.

Because the camera is mirrorless, the display and viewfinder are electronic and sharp as a tack. In addition, vibration reduction is built in, so you get a sharper picture by default than you could ever get in camera with a flip up mirror.

With the Z series (there is also a 45.7 megapixel Z7), Nikon has introduced a new Z lens mount that supplants the F mount of the past 40 years or so. The opening is a bit bigger, and the new technology it includes will allow lenses as sensitive as F/0.95.

The standard kit lens for the Z6 is a 24mm-70mm f/4 zoom lens, which seems very sharp indeed. By contrast, the D7200 comes with an 18mm-140mm f 3.5-5.6 zoom. Of course making these lenses is much cheaper for the DX area than for the full FX area.

Nikon also has introduced a $250 adapter for F-mount lenses (shown above), but only some of the most recent lenses seem to work with it. Neither of my fairly recent full frame lenses allowed autofocus to work, so look at the table of supported lenses before ordering it. Nikon has also released a roadmap of new lenses they will be introducing in the next 3 years.

The buttons and controls are very much like all my previous digital Nikons, so for the most part you will find it pretty easy to use. However, there are some exceptions.

Formatting the memory card is no longer something you can do by pressing two buttons at once: there just aren’t as many buttons on this camera body. But rather than hunting for the Format menu item, you can easily add it to your private menu favorites (My Menu) so you can find it more quickly. I usually copy photos to my PC about once a day and then format the memory card, so this is much handier.

I was surprised to discover that out of the box, there is no display of the photo you just took: the display goes live right away. If you want to look at your latest shot, you have to press the right-arrow button at the top left corner of the camera. There is a way to change this, however, using the Image Review menu item in the Playback menu. This took me quite a while to find, but after trying the setting both ways, I can see some advantages to each. For very rapid action shooting, that review is in the way, but if you are taking candids or covering an event where you need to make sure of your last shot, turning on Image Review will help.

The Z6 is also provides WiFi connection, which should allow you to transfer photos wirelessly. But like a number of other people who have tried this feature, I simply could not make it work. Fortunately, photos transfer very quickly using the provided USB cable. I now have 3 such USB cables: one for my D80, one for my D7200 and one for my Z6. So, when travelling be sure to pack all the cables you might need.

The display is bright, sharp and crisp, as is the viewfinder display, making you appreciate the quality of this camera’s features. However, this does have battery implications: you will probably have to change the battery every few days, while for the D7200, I could sometimes go a week or two between battery changes.  Fortunately, both cameras use the same charger and can use the same EN-EL15 batteries.

How sharp is it?

Below is a lovely shot I took in Martinique using our workhorse Nikon D7200. Can the Z6 do any better?

hillside mart.jpg

Well, not having another trip planned, I decided to do a couple of local tests. Below is a forest scene near our house.

z6trees full

I took the same shot at about a 50mm focal length with both cameras, with aperture priority set to f/11, using the same autofocus settings. At full frame the two pictures look pretty identical. You can see them at full resolution here for the D7200 and here for the Z6. Below, are details from both shots. It is pretty clear that the Z6 is much more detailed.

Nikon D7200        ——-    Nikon Z6

And what about our dog Edward?

bigz6dog

Here he is full frame, and here he is in details from both cameras. No question that the Z6 is much sharper. Of course he dozed during  D7200 shot and that could be why he looks “less sharp.”

Nikon D7200  —–     Nikon Z6

Having used the camera for about a week now, I am really impressed with the incredibly sharp pictures in the viewfinder, on the display and expanded on my laptop. It is the sharpest digital camera I have ever had and I plan to keep it.

Photo notes: Pictures of the two cameras (Z6 and D7200) were taken with my 10 megapixel D80. Pictures of the Z6 were taken with the D7200.

Oh, and incidentally, the Z6 uses only relatively expensive XQD memory cards, and the package (camera plus lens) does NOT include a memory card. Make sure your order includes one!

Chicken pot pie using an Instant Pot

Chicken pot pie using an Instant Pot

Chicken pot pie is an absolutely delicious comfort food for these cold winter days. Our version makes meaty chicken pies using the meat of a whole chicken and makes the stock for the stew base out of the carcass. It’s not a lot of work, but with the time it takes to cook the chicken and make the stock, the elapsed time is probably an hour a half. However, there is very little actual labor. In this version, the crust for our pie is buttermilk biscuits, from this recipe.

  • One whole frying chicken, 3 ½ to 4 pounds
  • 5 cups water, or more
  • 3 carrots, peeled
  • 1 whole leek, split
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt, pepper
  • 4 Tb butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ cup light cream
  • 1 recipe buttermilk biscuits.
  1. Cut the chicken into serving sized pieces, pulling off as much of the skin as you can.
  2. Put the chicken pieces in the Instant Pot, on the trivet and add the water and salt.
  3. Cook in the Instant Pot, using the Poultry setting for 15 minutes, 20 it the chicken is really big.
  4. Use Natural Release to let the chicken and water cool so it doesn’t spurt when you release the pressure.
  5. Remove the legs, thighs and breasts and cut the meat off and reserve. Put the bones back in the pot.
  1. Add 2 carrots, the leek, the bay leaf and 1 stalk of celery.
  2. Close the pot and cook using manual for 30 minutes to make chicken stock.
  3. Meanwhile, make the biscuit dough and preheat the over to 375˚
  4. Cut the remaining carrots and celery into small slices and saute in 2 Tb of the butter in a covered saucepan for about 20 minutes. We usually add the carrots first, and the celery 5-10 minutes later.
  1. Open the pot after the 30 minute cooking. Since it isn’t as full now, you probably can use Quick Release. If it starts to spurt, just let it cool another 5 minutes and it will easier to open.
  2. Melt the remaining 2 Tb of butter in a large, say 4-quart pan, and add the flour. Cook the flour in the butter for 30 seconds, and then scoop out some chicken stock, a cup or so at a time and cook into the flour. You should be able to incorporate and thicken about 4 cups of stock.
  1. Add the sautéed carrots and celery to the developing. If the gravy seems too thin, you can cook a couple more Tb of flour in some butter in the now emptied saucepan and add some stock to it. Combine with the original gravy in the pot,
  2. Add the chicken to the pot, the cream, and the frozen peas.
  3. Cook until heated through and pour the chicken mixture into a casserole dish
  1. Top with about 10 biscuit rounds.
  2. Bake in the 375˚ for 15 minutes.
  3. Serve the casserole dish with a ladle to life out the biscuits and chicken. Serve with butter for the biscuits.

Note: Another approach is to put the chicken mixture into soup crocks. For a crust, roll out some puff pastry, and brush with a small of egg-water mixture. Bake for 15 minutes as above.

in ramekins

Either way, this serves at least 4 people. We put the other half of the chicken mixture in these soup crocks to freeze for another meal.

On being a paper boy in the 50s

On being a paper boy in the 50s

skyscraper

In Columbus, at the corner of North High and W.N. Broadway there was an Isaly’s store in the 1950s. This popular dairy store served their famous Skyscraper cones, sundaes, sodas, shakes and sold cheeses and cold cuts, included their famous Chipped Chopped Ham. Since Isaly’s was right next to the Clinton Theater, they did a good business after every show. I gave them my business for another reason.

If you walked west on W.N. Broadway about half a block, you would come to an alley, and just up the alley on the left was a small frame building painted dark green. It was maybe 10’ x 16’ in size and locked with a padlock much of the day. But around 3pm, the Station Manager opened the building so you could see shelves running down each side and a counter in the rear. This is where I and other paper boys (there were soon some paper girls, too although not at that particular substation) picked up our papers every afternoon.

Columbus, in the mid-1950s was a city of about 380,000 (Greater Columbus was probably half a million) and had three newspapers: the Columbus Dispatch, the Columbus Citizen and the Ohio State Journal. The Dispatch and Citizen were evening papers and the Journal a morning paper. Each of these were at that time independently owned, with the Columbus Dispatch, the largest in circulation and advertising being held by the powerful (and somewhat secretive) Wolfe family.

The Columbus Citizen was part of the Scripps-Howard media empire, and the Journal was held over the years by a number of owners.

Politically, Ohio was definitively a Republican state and the Dispatch was clearly a rock-ribbed Republican newspaper. Ohio went for Eisenhower in the 50s and for Nixon over Kennedy in 1960. Only a few counties around Cleveland went for Kennedy. However, by 1964 most of Ohio went for Johnson over Goldwater. But after that, Ohio has remained Republican most of the time until Obama, although considered a “swing state” by some currently.

347walhallacolorI lived at the end of East Longview in Columbus, but our modest 3 bedroom 1-bath house faced the Walhalla ravine and had a Walhalla address. From there I could easily bike to Clinton Elementary School, just a few blocks away, and later to Crestview Junior High when I entered seventh grade. It was about that time that I became a paper carrier. I think that the paper sent notices to the classes of rising seventh graders inviting them to apply for paper carrier jobs, and I applied.

In any case, soon after I started Junior High in the fall of 1954, I began my paper route. I would bike home, leave my schoolbooks and grab my paper bags and bike down to the substation behind Isaly’s. Many days I beat the truck that left the papers off at the substation. We’d all be sitting around on the shelves waiting until some sharp eyed boy spotted the truck and called out “Papers!” We’d all grab the bundles out of the truck and bring them into the station, where the young station manager, Jim Lawson, would count them into groups and hand them out to each of us, more or less in the order we had arrived.

rolledpapers

While we could go off right away to deliver the papers, many of us stayed to fold the papers to make them easier to throw onto a customer’s porches. We could use rubber bands, but most of us learned how to fold newspapers quickly   by tucking the folded section into the opening on the spine side of the paper. A quick twist and these papers were very stable for throwing without messing with rubber bands. It became a point of pride among the carriers to be able to fold your entire route’s papers in a couple of minutes before setting out. I only used rubber bands to secure the Sunday papers, which were a bit larger.

I did stop off at Isaly’s from time to time, and in June they had a  Dairy Month special: half price ice cream sodas! They cost 12 cents! I usually had more than one that month.

My paper route

elakeview2

My first paper route on East Lakeview Ave was a relatively small one with only 34 subscribers. The street looks much the same today. The Citizen (and the Dispatch for that matter) cost 5¢ a copy daily and 15 cents on Sunday. Of that, we got, I think a little over 2 cents a paper, and probably a bit more for the Sunday paper. (I later learned that Dispatch carriers were paid a bit more, closer to 3 cents a paper.)

I folded all the papers, put them in my saddle bags and set off about 4 blocks south to Lakeview. Usually, I put some folded papers in my shoulder bag and walked up one side of the street and back down the other delivering papers.  Most houses in this era had covered wooden porches, and if I could toss the paper on the porch, it was pretty safe from the elements. Some customers had specified “In the door,” ot “In box” and we had to walk up and deliver these in person.

Then I rode my bike up to the next block and repeated the process. The last part of Lakeview made a left turn and ran along the Walhalla ravine. These houses were below street level and a bit harder to get to. Sometimes this engendered small tips, but that was pretty rare.

Sometimes there were mishaps: you got a paper wet or accidentally tossed it into the bushes. But since I added my parents’ house to my route, I always had an extra. In one particularly wild mishap, a wild throw left a paper on the customer’s porch roof. Fortunately, that was Jim Lawson’s parents’ house, and  we had a good laugh over it.

Delivering papers was pretty quick once you got the hang of it, but Sunday papers were a bit more of an effort. The papers were heavier and hard to manage, and most carriers, including me, talked their parents into driving them on Sundays. You picked up the papers, I think, between 6 and 7am and were expected to have them all delivered before 8am. And yes, on Sunday, I used rubber bands.

Collecting

Collecting from customers was one of the bigger pieces of drudgery in what at first seemed like a halcyon experience. Carriers were given half-size 3 ring notebooks with a page for each subscriber, and it was up to you to collect weekly and keep records of whether they had. Generally, we collected Thursday evening after dinner, when people would be home. Daily subscribers paid 30 cents a week, daily and Sunday paid 45 cents, and those who ordered magazine subscriptions through the Citizen paid an additional 15 cent a week. So, you collected 30, 45 or 60 cents per subscriber per week.

changerThis took some time but wasn’t too hard. There were almost always a few you had to go back to because they didn’t seem to be home or didn’t want to answer the door, or didn’t have change.  I  had one of those belt change dispensers loaded with nickels, dimes and quarters. This is the same sort of changer that came up in the testimony of Anthony Ulasiewicz, one of Nixon’s White House Plumbers, who testified that he carried a changer to make all those phone calls from pay phones.

The second year, the Citizen came up with subscriber pages with little postage stamp sized tear-off tabs to give the subscribers as receipts. While this might have seemed like a good idea to someone, that meant there was little space to write notes about subscriber requests, and they weren’t all that sturdy.

Paying your bill

Every Saturday morning, a bunch of bleary eyed paper boys, carrying little canvas bags of money showed up at the substation to pay their paper bills. They didn’t want change or checks, so you had to have your parents launder the checks and If you had a bunch of coins, you eventually had to take them to the bank.

My bills that first year were around $11.50, meaning that I got to keep around $3 a week. Not really a big haul, but this was worth a bit more in the 1950s than it is now.

After about a year I got the chance to switch to a larger route on Clinton Heights, with about 56 subscribers. This took longer to deliver, but I made almost twice as much money, about $6 as week. And the route ended up only a block from our house. Clinton Heights had some larger houses, especially at the top of the street, but most wealthier people preferred the Dispatch.

Snow

Looking back at my childhood in Columbus, I tend to think of the smell of new-mown grass, fresh morning dew and hot summer days. But Columbus did have winters, and sometimes significant snowfalls. I don’t recall exactly all we did, but  I do remember pushing my balloon tire bike through the snow as it carried the papers for me. I also remember that that little green carrier’s substation had a stove in it, and on cold afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings, Lawson would build a fire in that metal stove, vented through the roof. And that heat was really welcome.

Canvassing

One truly unwelcome feature of being paper carrier was the Citizen’s insistence on our canvassing for new subscribers. One night every month or so, we’d meet at the station about 6pm and jump into cars provided by Lawson and our district manager. They’d take us to unfamiliar neighborhoods and give us a pep talk about the wonderful trips we could win if we sold enough subscriptions (and magazines). The Dispatch did not require its carriers to canvas. But according to my friend Jeff Luce, who carried the Dispatch at the same time, they were required to sell accident insurance policies to their subscribers.

Some of the boys on these canvases came up with amusing, fictional trips instead such as rides on the Goodyear Blimp and alligator rides. Sometimes we went in pairs, egging each other on to enhance the fictions we were spinning. Sometimes, the customers found it entertaining enough to order a subscription.

Other times we were turned away because the Citizen was a “damned Democrat” newspaper. It certainly wasn’t as Republican as the Dispatch (in local argot pronounced DIS-patch) and it seemed more centrist to me. However, since Scripps Howard’s syndicate was wide ranging, some of the stories were probably less parochial. Later when I was back in Columbus for graduate school, I did compare the papers with a better eye to their politics, and as this was during the Vietnam war era, the differences were fairly plain. The Dispatch was far less forgiving in any stories about war protests and the Citizen much more neutral. Few of the nationally known liberal columnists appeared in either paper.

Selling Extras

In those simpler days, newspapers still sold extras on the street when a major story broke mid-day. I was called out of classes at Crestview to sell extras twice. The major one was the conviction on December 21, 1954 of neurosurgeon Dr Sam Sheppard in the murder of his wife Marilyn. I was given a bag of papers and a spot on North High street where I was to hawk the extras. I think I may have sold 6 or 7.

Sheppard was exonerated in a second trial and released from prison in 1966. The judge blamed the media circus atmosphere for influencing the jurors in the first trial. Columbus papers had stories nearly every day about “Dr Sam” and his sensational trial,  but the Cleveland papers practically tried and convicted Sheppard in their articles. The television series The Fugitive seemed to be loosely based on Sheppard’s case, but this was always denied by its creators.

Carrier Awards

I did win one trip to Washington, DC with the newsboys when I was about 12, selling subscriptions. It was a really successful trip and we had a great time. We saw the usual sights: the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and yes, I and most us did climb all 800-some steps to the top of the monument. We also saw Monticello, Arlington Cemetery, and I think, part of the Smithsonian.

I was selected a Carrier of the Year my last year in the job and took a bus down to the Citizen office and have my picture taken along with a handful of other lucky carriers. We got our pictures in the paper and a snow globe with a gold paper carrier in it, that sadly I seem to have lost some time since. In my 2-1/2 years as a paper boy, I had only one “missed” delivery, so I had a pretty good record, but it probably didn’t help me much with my college applications.

Time to Go

Partway through 9th grade at Crestview Jr High, I realized that it was time to leave the paper business as North High School was approaching, and it would make more demands on my time. So, I submitted my resignation. And, in the place for a reason, my wise-guy parents suggested I put down a biblical reference: I Corinthians 13:11.  The quote is:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Sex

Like Peyton Place, no story would be complete without some sex. You would probably like to read about some flamboyant affair with a customer or wife or something, But I was 14 then and that never happened. The best story I can tell you is the Susie Scott lived on Clinton Heights and I saw her once or twice and took her out at least once. That was to go to a Teen Dance Party TV broadcast one Saturday afternoon. And yes, we did dance, so I can say this was my (our) TV debut as dancers: an event never repeated.

Epilog

isalys-logoThe Isaly family retired in the 1960s and many of the beloved stores closed with them. The delicious Klondike Bars remain, now made by Unilever. Most of the Ohio Stores closed by the 1990s, and one or two remained longer in the Pittsburgh area.

The little green substation is gone now, and that space looks to be a parking lot. Isaly’s seems to have been replaced by a Kroger and, sadly, the elegant Clinton Theater, where I saw lots of kid’s matinees has been torn down. Right now, there is just a patch of grass there.

clintontheater

In 1959, Scripps Howard merged the Ohio State Journal with the Columbus Citizen and the Citizen-Journal was published as a morning paper under a Joint Operating Agreement with the Columbus Dispatch, using the same press facilities, and some of the same back office staff. This was possible because of a recent law that was intended to save struggling papers, and did for a while. But in 1985, recognizing that evening papers were passé, the Dispatch terminated the operating agreement and the Citizen-Journal, lacking a buyer, closed. The Dispatch became the morning paper the next day.

journalimage

By the third generation, the children of the powerful Wolfe family were less interested in running the family businesses. In addition, the newspaper publishing business was no longer all that profitable and in 2015, the family sold the Columbus Dispatch to Gatehouse Media.  In 2016, the new Dispatch owners endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, although Ohio went for Trump. This was only the second time the Dispatch had endorsed a Democrat. Their other endorsement was of Woodrow Wilson.

The family patriarch John F Wolfe died in June, 2016, and The Wigwam, the Wolfe family’s hunting lodge and retreat was sold to Violet Township in 2018 by the Wolfe family at a substantial discount from its valuation, bringing to an end some of the power of the Wolfe clan. They still owned broadcast media, substantial real estate holdings and investment banking businesses, but Wolfe’s philanthropic leadership and strong opinions were no more.

 

 

Mint: Ridgefield’s fine new Indian restaurant

Mint: Ridgefield’s fine new Indian restaurant

Mint opened only a month ago on Route 7 (296 Ethan Allen Hwy) and is already serving excellent Indian cuisine to happy diners for lunch and dinner every night of the week. They also offer takeout of their entire menu.

Anticipating that it might get crowded later, we went about 6:15pm last Saturday, and there were already 3-4 tables occupied, and they continued to fill up all the time we were there.  The menu offers appetizers, breads, tandoori grilled kebabs, salads, soups, and lamb, chicken, seafood, vegetarian and Indian Chinese items, as well as a few desserts. There is also a Kid’s Menu. Their drinks menu consists of wines and beers.

Even though you might think this is a small restaurant from the façade, it opens into quite a nice sized dining area with simple, but elegant décor. When we were seated, we were immediately given a basket of light, crunchy Indian breads and three sauces for them: chutney, sweet soy and a mildly spicy green dipping sauce. All were very good.

We decided to throw caution to the winds and order one appetizer and three entrees so we could try out more of their cuisine. This turned out to be an excellent idea, because everything we tried was excellent. All if their dishes come in serving bowls with ladles, to facilitate sharing, which we definitely did.

mancurian shrimp

Our appetizer was Shrimp Manchurian ($9): crispy shrimp with hot cilantro garlic sauce. If you are concerned about being overwhelmed with hot Indian spices, just ask for “medium” which is only mildly spicy. And, don’t worry if you don’t want the cilantro, it was only in the sprinkled leaves and easily avoided. The shrimp were indeed crispy, sweet and hot and a truly delightful appetizer.

lamb rogan

One of our entrees was Lamp Rogan Josh ($20), a north Indian spicy lamb stew, although it was pretty mild as delivered to us. The lamb was extraordinarily tender and the stew smooth and elegant. Usually recipes for this delightful stew include garam masala (blend), ginger, turmeric, cardamom and garlic, and we detected hints of all those in this delicious stew. Note that they provided rice, “decorated” with a few pieces of crunchy carrots and some peas.

butter chicken

We’ve made Butter Chicken ourselves, but theirs ($17) is way better: smooth and silky with butter, cream, tomatoes, and the usual garam masala among the excellent blend of flavors in this dish. They suggested that this dish is easy to take home leftovers from, and that you could even make sandwiches from it.

coconut shrimp

Finally, their Shrimp Moilee ($22) was an exceptional dish, made with curry leaf, ginger, onion, blended into a smooth coconut milk sauce. It is surprising dishes like this that make you want to come back and try the rest of the items on the menu (and there are many).

Mint is an excellent new restaurant just up the road, in the complex with the Day’s Inn. The food and service are outstanding, and we expect to return often.

Mint’s online menu emphasizes their ability to provide nearly all of their menu for take out, and this might be great for surprise guests as well as a last minute dinner. But we really liked the atmosphere in their elegant restaurant and suggest you give it a try.  It is really quite impressive!

 

 

Delicious southern buttermilk biscuits

Delicious southern buttermilk biscuits

Our recipe for biscuits is really very simple, with flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, unsalted butter and buttermilk. And it took a leap into high quality when we decided to fold and roll the biscuit dough, like you do when making croissants. Otherwise, it is much like hundreds of other recipes.

If you add salt, why do you use unsalted butter? Because unsalted butter has much less water in it than salted butter and works much better for pastry.

There have been a spate of articles in the past few months about why Northerners can’t make biscuits as good as Southerners do (and here we mean the Southern and Northern United States.)  See also “Why Most of America is Terrible at Making Biscuits.

flour-bleached-self-risingOne such article “Here’s why Southern Biscuits are Better” explains that southern cooks use a soft wheat flour like White Lily which has a much lower protein (and gluten) content, about 8-9 %, while an all purpose flour like King Arthur can be 11.7%. King Arthur All Purpose flour is close to bread flour which is 12.7%, while White Lily has the texture of cake flour, which is 6.9% to 7.1% for various brands.

 

 

Well, the authors of the two articles above point out that Southern biscuit makers use the low protein White Lily Flour, which is only available in the southern U.S., despite being distributed by Smuckers. You can, of course, buy it on line for a premium price and we did, to see what the difference really is.

[If you want to create a substitute for White Lily flour, you can mix ½ cake flour (7%) with ½ Gold Medal All Purpose (10.5%), which gives you a flour that is 8.75 % protein.]

Our Northern Recipe

We made our biscuits using our normal recipe:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Unsalted butter, 1/3 cup or 2/3 stick or 76 g
  • About 1 cup of buttermilk

In our recipe, we mix all the dry ingredients, and then cut in the butter using a pastry blender (or two forks).  Then, we add the buttermilk and mix it in with a fork and roll out the dough. We recently found that we had a pastry marble, which helps keep the butter cold, and we rolled out the dough on the marble. Then, and this is significant, we folded the dough into thirds and rolled it out again. We repeated that twice more, thus making more buttery layers within the biscuits. The resulting biscuits are excellent.

Southern Biscuits

White Lily Flour is commonly sold as Self-Rising, which means that every cup of flour has 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt already added. White Lily is also bleached, which weakens the gluten a bit more, so this could also change the biscuit characteristics. (You can buy the non-leavened version as well.)

The recipes we looked at simply vary in the quantity of flour and shortenings. This one is pretty typical.

  • 2 ½ cups self-rising flour
  • 4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1 cup chilled buttermilk.

The one difference is that the butter is frozen and you shred it in a box grater or a food processor. We found that it took so much kinetic energy to shred the butter in the box grater, that the it began to soften, so we switched to the food processor instead.

foldedAs before, we mixed the butter in with the pastry blender and added the buttermilk. One cup is a bit stingy, and we added a bit more buttermilk to make a workable dough. We rolled out the dough as before, (on our pastry marble) and folded it into thirds and rolled it out 3 times as before. Some recipe writers claim that you should cut out the biscuits without twisting your biscuit cutter, so we did that too for both batches. This may be just an old custom without a lot of science behind it, though.

 

We baked both biscuits for 10 minutes at 450˚ F. The White Lily ones were a bit taller since there was more flour in the dough recipe and thus the dough was a bit thicker when rolled out on the marble. So we baked these Southern biscuits a bit longer until they began to brown.

both baked

How are the biscuits different?

The King Arthur biscuits are a little darker and the White Lily a little lighter, because the White Lily flour is bleached. But the taste and texture of the two are very similar. Since we had to cook the taller White Lily biscuits a bit longer, the bottoms were a bit thicker and crunchier than those from King Arthur flour. However, see below on this point.

both split

The crumb and texture of the two biscuits are very similar and both quite tasty. (See the picture at the top of the article, as well.) We just didn’t find much difference. The secret seems to be the layers of butter from folding and rolling, and both biscuits have that nice buttery flavor.

crisco butterWe also tried making the White Lily biscuits using the recipe on the flour package, which commenters on the existing recipes said worked perfectly. It differs only in that the butter is replaced by Crisco. The biscuits are very pretty,  but pretty tasteless. The recipe suggests that you brush the biscuits with melted butter as shown. It doesn’t improve them much.

2 cups white lilyTo reduce the number of biscuits to the number we could roll out, we made the recipe again using just 2 cups of White Lily flour and 2/3 stick of shredded frozen butter. These were very good, but, frankly, no better than the King Arthur flour recipe.

cold butterFinally, we made the White Lily biscuits using cold, but not frozen butter, much as we made the King Arthur biscuits. These biscuits were not as tall or “layery.” Apparently the lower gluten flour affects this layering and you need frozen butter to achieve this effect with White Lily.

Our conclusion is, if you live in the South where you can buy White Lily Flour for about $2.50 for 5 pounds, go for it. But in the rest of the country, use All Purpose Flour and unsalted butter, and you will be very happy with the results.

both with eggs

 

 

Chicken baked in cream

Chicken baked in cream

Here is a simple, quick recipe you can put together in a couple of minutes and then bake for 50 minutes and serve. It’s that easy!

  • 1 frying chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs) cut up
  • 1 4 oz stick butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cups light cream
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • Salt and pepper

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375˚ F
  2. Cut of the chicken, discarding the backs and wing tips. Remove most of the skin.
  3. Melt the butter in a frying pan and brown the chicken parts for a few minute son each side. The chicken need not be cooked.
  4. Remove the chicken pieces to an oven-proof casserole.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Saute the onion in the butter until softened and then add the onion and remaining butter to the casserole
  7. Add the cream and the sherry.
  8. Cover the casserole and bring the cream mixture to a slow boil.

9. Place the casserole in the oven and cook for 50 minutes

10. Remove from the oven. You should have a rich, clotted sauce.

11. Serve the chicken with rice and a vegetable. Be sure to serve the sauce, too.

plated

Serve with any vegetable you like.

Sous-vide cooking with our new Anova Cooker

Sous-vide cooking with our new Anova Cooker

Sous-vide cooking amounts to putting your food in a sealed plastic bag and immersing it in a temperature controlled water bath for an hour or so. Until recently, sous-vide cookers had cost several hundred dollars, but the latest models are about $100 and suitable for Christmas presents. Our new Anova Nano Precision cooker is just such a device, and we report here on our first experiences with it.

The essence of sous-vide cookery is immersing your food (meat, fish or some vegetables)  in a water bath at just the temperature you want the food to reach. For example, if you want a steak to have an internal temperature of 130˚ F, you put your steak in a vacuum sealed bag in a temperature-controlled water bath at 130˚ F for about an hour. The entire steak will have an internal temperature of 130˚ rather than just the middle. You finish the steak with a quick browning in a pan to give you the outer crust you’d expect.

The Anova cooker is a well-made, compact appliance that you clamp to the side of any fairly deep pot. It comes with minimal documentation (a tiny 5-page leaflet) directing you to download the Anova app for your smart phone.

This app immediately connects to the Anova via Bluetooth, allowing you to manage the settings from your phone. Use of the app is not entirely transparent: you would think that you could adjust the temperature and time from the app, bit you can actually only select times and temperatures associated with various recipes within the app: Beef Poultry, Eggs, Fish and seafood, Lamb, Port and Vegetables (Carrots and Corn only).

Steak

We bought some on-sale prime sirloin steak for our first experiment, placing the seasoned steak into a gallon zip lock bag with some seasonings.

We set the Anova for 130˚ using the app. This took a little fiddling, as it was not obvious at first ow to switch from Rare to Medium Rare. You just swipe right to move to the next temperature setting, but there was no indication on the screen that it was swipe-able. You should bring the water to temperature before putting the meat in. Since you can get tap water at 130˚, this is not too difficult. For high temperatures, you need to use your stove to heat the water, as the Anova takes quite a while to get to higher temperatures.

You slowly lower the bag into the water, letting the water pressure force out the air, and then seal the bag. It should sink in the water if you got most of the air out. We started the cooker, and an hour later had cooked, steak but with a gray exterior. We browned it in a cast-iron pan and then served it.  It was as good as the steak, which in this case was modest, but the cooker worked like a charm.

Chicken Breasts

We also followed the recipe provided with the cooker for chicken breasts.

Nearly all of these are by noted food writer Kenji Lopez-Alt. In those case, we put each of two breast halves in a separate 1 quart zip lock bag with a little oil and a sprig of rosemary and cooked them at 150˚ F for one hour. Then, we browned the chicken skin on a fry pan and deboned the breast easily. We sliced each breast up for serving and ate it with gusto. The breast was perfectly cooked and juicy, unlike nearly all other chicken breast recipes and an simple evening meal. It was great.

sliced

Carrots

carrot bag

To cook carrots, you cut them into 1-2 inch pieces, bag them and add a bit of sugar and butter, and seal them for immersion. We simply were not able to get all the air out of the bag because of the irregularity of the carrot pieces. We tried weight the bag by clamping a spoon to it, but the bag leaked and the carrots were not fully cooked. You also have to raise the water bath to 183˚ and this is beat done on the stove. You probably need to invest in a vacuum sealer to do carrots, but since we have a number of recipes for carrots already, this is not that urgent.

It’s not clear how often we’ll use our cooker, but it is very easy to use with the smartphone app and the results are really impressive. We have it in our stove drawer now for easy access.

Why homeopathy is hokum

Why homeopathy is hokum

There are lots of faux drugs on the shelves of many shameless drugstore chains that are labeled “homeopathic.” These are useless nostrums marketed to the gullible.  Usually they are labelled as something like “200C.” This is not a temperature, but the number of dilutions of the original substance.

The completely unsubstantiated hypothesis behind homeopathy is that “like cures like,” and that a very small diluted amount of some “natural substances,” such as plant extracts can stimulate the body to repair itself. There is no evidence that this 18th century idea actually works.

The way homeopaths work is that they select some substance or substances they believe might be helpful and dilute them with shaking, which they call potentization. The word has no actual meaning. Then after many dilutions and shakings, they sell some to you for treatment.

Well now, how much is “some”?

Let’s assume that table salt is a substance that can be used for treatment. It has a molecular weight of (23 + 35.5) of 58.5. We know, from the work of Loschmidt and Avogadro that if you weigh out the molecular weight of any substance in grams (in this case 58.5 g) it contains one  mole of particles, or 6.02 x 1023 molecules.

1 mole saltSo let’s dissolve that mole of salt on one liter of water. Now we have a one molar solution containing those 1023 molecules.  And now, lets dilute 10 ml of that liter by 100, to again make one liter.  This new liter will have 1/100 as many molecules in it, or 1021 molecules.

Well the “C” in that “200C” designation means that has been diluted by 100. And the 200 means that this has been repeated 200 times!

So lets see what happens after each dilution:

  1. 1021 molecules
  2. 1019 molecules
  3. 1017 molecules

…..

  1. 105 molecules
  2. 103 molecules
  3. 101 molecules

 

After 11 dilutions, you have only 10 molecules of salt left in your solution.  What happens when you dilute it 100:1 another time? If you take 100 10 ml samples of that last liter, 10 of them could have one molecule of salt!

And after that, the chances of there being even one molecule of our “medicine” are vanishingly small. All of the salt (or any other substance) is lost in the dilution process! There isn’t any left after 12 or so dilutions. And by 200 there is absolutely no chance you’ll encounter even one molecule!  It’s gone down the drain, just as the entire homeopathic hypothesis has. There are no active ingredients at all!

Taking homeopathic preparations can act as a placebo, or if they dilute the substance in alcohol instead of water, a quick drunk, but there just can’t be any benefits in the absence of any medicine.

Unfortunately homeopathic preparations are poorly regulated, and some dangerous substances may remain in significant quantities. In some cases, heavy metals have been found.

513minrbq9l._ac_us436_fmwebp_ql65_Studies of the famous quack medicine oscillococcimnum have shown no significant effect. And studies of some 68 treatments have found that they have no effect either.

These are quack medicines that improve the bottom line of unethical pharmacies, but can’t do you any good. Any they may do some harm.