30 April 2010

Cream Gravy - A Southern Classic

Cream Gravy - A Southern Classic / www.delightfulrepast.com
Cream gravy may not be the most photogenic food in the world (especially in the hands of an amateur photo- grapher), but it's so good. As you can see, my Southern roots won out over my English roots for this week's post. Got a craving for buttery mashed potatoes and cream gravy--just when I was ready to get serious about my cholesterol level! Well, Julia Child wasn't afraid of a little butter, cream and fat; and she lived to be nearly 92!

I was just a young girl when I began working on my family tree and struck up a correspondence with my 89-year-old great grandmother. We were pen pals right up until she died about a year later. Wish I could say I still had her letters, but they got lost in a move. Though I never actually met her, I felt very close to her. She was quite a woman.

Born in Virginia and at 34 living in North Carolina, she and my great grandfather and their seven children headed to Oklahoma in a covered wagon. Two children died, and another was born, on the long, slow journey. When they reached their destination, my great grandfather felled trees and built a log cabin with a dirt floor. And my great grandmother, a strong pioneer woman, was in a constant whirl of working and cooking (and having more children).

Her grandchildren fondly recall her fine cooking--hot bread, fresh from the oven of her wood stove, with butter she had churned herself, vegetables from her garden, fruit from her trees, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken and gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, pork chops and, you guessed it, gravy. She was frequently heard to say, "I've made enough gravy to float a battleship down the Mississippi."

Her daughter, my grandmother, was also a great cream gravy-maker and I enjoyed her gravy often throughout my childhood. I make several different gravies, but I can never make cream gravy without thinking of these two women. I don't like to waste food (Grandma would be so proud!), so sometimes, even after eating a big dinner, if there's just a little bit of cream gravy left over, I'll have it on a piece of bread. I've always called it "gravy bread." Hmm ... wonder if anyone else out there enjoys gravy bread.

(Updated 06/11/15: Just posted Biscuits and Gravy.)

Cream Gravy

(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

2 tablespoons pan drippings or bacon grease
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup chicken broth or milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

In skillet, whisk together the fat (I know, I know, "bacon grease" sounds just awful; but it tastes so good!) and flour and cook, continuously stirring, for a minute or two until bubbly. Whisk in milk and broth. Turn heat to low and continue stirring until mixture is thickened, a couple more minutes. Stir in salt and pepper. If you like thicker gravy, cook a little longer. If you like thinner gravy, add milk or broth a tablespoon at a time until it's just the way you like it.

23 April 2010

Carrot Cake - A Blast From the Past

Chocolate had been my favorite flavor of cake, or anything else, until the day I had carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I was a teenager, and it was love at first bite. My mother and I couldn't find a recipe for it anywhere, so we made one up. 

And here it is, with a few minor changes I've made over the years. Since I started making it in a half-sheet pan, I use more finely shredded carrots, more finely chopped nuts and tiny Zante currants instead of raisins because it's a thin cake.

You don't need a stand mixer, or even a hand mixer, just a spoon to stir it up. And an 18x13x1-inch half-sheet pan (I LOVE my half-sheet pan). For a casual party, you can serve the cake straight from the pan. For an afternoon tea or other fancy party, you can cut it into dozens of 1 to 1 1/2-inch squares as a quick and easy stand-in for petits fours.

Carrot Sheet Cake

(Makes 18x13x1-inch half-sheet, 32 servings)

The Cake

2 dip-and-sweep cups (10 ounces/283 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces/298 grams) sugar
1 1/3 cups (10.67 fluid ounces/316 ml) organic canola oil
2 cups (12 ounces/340 grams) finely shredded carrots
1 cup (5 ounces/142 grams) Zante currants

1 cup (3.75 ounces/106 grams) chopped walnuts or pecans

The Frosting

1 3-ounce (85 grams) package cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups (12 ounces/340 grams) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce/30 ml) milk

1 Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas4. Spray with cooking spray an 18x13x1-inch half-sheet pan. In small bowl, whisk together flour, soda, cinnamon and salt. In another small bowl, stir a tablespoon of flour mixture into currants to coat and separate; stir in chopped nuts.

2 In large bowl, beat eggs; beat in sugar, then oil. Beat in flour mixture. Stir in carrots, raisins and nuts. Pour into prepared pan. Bake about 30 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack about 2 hours.

3 In small bowl of electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar (no need to sift) and mix until thoroughly combined, adding milk at the end.

16 April 2010

Chard and Kale Salad

Chard and Kale Salad / www.delightfulrepast.com
Chard and kale, usually cooked, make a crisp green salad you can actually make, and dress, the day before. I devised the original version of this recipe when I was invited to a locavore potluck dinner meeting. Each guest was to bring a dish in which every ingredient had been grown or produced within 100 miles of home, with the exception of salt and olive oil. It was the beginning of January, so the possibilities were limited. The locally grown chard and kale looked really good, but what would I do with them? I didn't want to take cooked greens and have to reheat them. I thought if I sliced the chard and kale finely and left them to marinate in some sort of dressing overnight, that would make a nice change from the usual green salad.

Vinegar was out since I didn't know of a within-100-miles source for it. But I had trees full of Meyer lemons to provide acid and Satsuma mandarins to add color and sweetness to complement the slight (and quite pleasant) bitterness of the greens. Satsumas have the added bonus of being seedless and easily segmented.

But now, in mid-April, the Satsumas are long gone. So I've replaced them with oranges, a little less glamorous maybe but still delicious. You might want to add some black pepper or a favorite herb; but even without the constraints of the 100-mile locavore diet, I prefer the salad with no embellishments.

Chard and Kale Salad

(Makes 6 Servings)

1 8- to 12-ounce bunch chard, thinly sliced
1 8-ounce bunch kale, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 or 4 oranges, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks

Start the salad the day before it is to be served; the greens need time to tenderize a bit. I do the chiffonade thing with the chard and kale, stacking and rolling the carefully washed and dried leaves and slicing them thinly into 1/8-inch-wide ribbons. In small bowl, whisk together the salt, juices and oil. In 3-quart bowl, combine chard, kale and dressing. Cover and refrigerate until next day. Two hours before serving, toss greens and add oranges.

09 April 2010

Classic White Sandwich Bread

Classic White Sandwich Bread / www.delightfulrepast.com

Classic white sandwich bread is something anyone who wants a reputation as a cook needs to master. Even if you really can't cook a lick, if you can make yeast bread everyone thinks you're some kind of cooking genius. Seriously, yeast bread (and pie crust) really impresses people. Master these and you'll be able to fake it as a cook for the rest of your life. If you've never made bread before, just follow my can't-fail step-by-step below.

If you prefer to use a heavy-duty stand mixer for mixing and kneading bread dough, here is the same Classic White Sandwich Bread - Stand Mixer Method.

Classic White Sandwich Bread

5 dip-and-sweep cups (25 ounces/709 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups (16 fluid ounces/473 ml) milk or water, room temperature
2 tablespoons (1 ounce/28 grams) melted unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil

1 In large bowl (a straight-sided 4-quart bowl makes it easy to tell when dough has doubled), whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, salt and instant yeast. With dough whisk or large wooden spoon, stir in liquid and butter or oil until thoroughly mixed. Stir for 1 or 2 minutes, then stir in 2 1/2 cups flour a half cup at a time. Finished dough will be shaggy and sticky.

Classic White Sandwich Bread / www.delightfulrepast.com
2 Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour at room temperature, then refrigerate for 24 hours. (Back when my grandmother made this bread, instead of using yeast, she would just keep back a small piece of dough from one batch to leaven the next, which also added flavor. In this updated version, I've added flavor by mixing the dough the day before.)

3 Remove dough from refrigerator and let rest for 1 hour to warm up a bit. Scrape dough out onto lightly floured (from remaining 1/2 cup) surface. Knead for about 5 or 6 minutes, adding more of remaining flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rest a few minutes while you clean out and oil bowl for second rise.

4 Flatten out dough and continue kneading for another 5 or 6 minutes, or until dough is soft and smooth. Place dough in oiled bowl, turning dough to oil surface and pressing it flat. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm (82F/28C is ideal) place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. If house is cool, heat oven to 200F/93C, allow to heat for 2 minutes, turn off oven and put dough in to rise.

5 Lightly oil two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Turn risen dough out onto lightly floured (still from that remaining 1/2 cup) surface, flattening gently to break up any large bubbles. Divide dough into two equal pieces. Press each piece into a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Fold in short ends of dough until piece is about 6 inches long. Roll from one rough edge, pinch seam to seal and roll gently to form a tight log the length of pan. Place seam-side down in prepared pans and press dough into pans so that it reaches sides, ends and corners. Cover loaves with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until dough rises just above top of pans and springs back just a little when lightly poked with a floured finger. (I put the pans and a mug of hot water under an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet held up by a 1-pound can in each corner and covered with a towel.)

Classic White Sandwich Bread / www.delightfulrepast.com
6 During the last 20 minutes, heat oven to 450F/230C/Gas8. Put loaves in oven and reduce heat to 375F/190C/Gas5. Bake for about 45 minutes or until loaves are golden brown, shrink from sides of pans, and bottoms of loaves sound hollow if tapped. Remove immediately from pans and let cool on wire rack for 1 hour. Wrap well as soon as bread has cooled thoroughly. Store at room temperature or freeze in zipper freezer bags. Yields 2 loaves.

Note: Some manufacturers call the 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch size a 1-pound loaf tin.  

02 April 2010

Split Pea Soup and Biscuits

Split Pea Soup and Biscuits / www.delightfulrepast.com

Split pea soup and biscuits are a winning combination in the comfort food department. Last fall when I had a little health issue and was feeling really bad, I was reminded why comfort food is called comfort food. A friend called one afternoon and said, "Do you like split pea soup? Because that's what we're having for dinner, and I'd be happy to bring some by for you. It's just some soup and biscuits." No, it wasn't "just" some soup and biscuits. That simple meal was the Delightful Repast that spurred my recovery.

Split pea soup is not just a cold-weather dish. Ham is the centerpiece of many people's spring celebrations, and split pea soup is a great way to use some of the leftovers. Sherry is a great addition to split pea soup, and you can serve it on the side if some present do not partake of alcoholic beverages.

My split pea soup recipe is below, and my biscuit recipe can be found on my guest post at amateurgourmet.com.

Split Pea Soup

(Makes 6 10-ounce servings)

1 pound (2 1/4 cups) green split peas, washed and drained
2 1/2 quarts water
1 cup chopped celery (2 large stalks)
1 cup chopped or coarsely grated carrots (2 large carrots)
1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
1/3-pound piece of a fully cooked ham
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon marjoram leaves
1 bay leaf
Garnish: sherry, sour cream, creme fraiche or plain yogurt and something green

In at least a 4-quart pan (I use a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven), combine all ingredients (except garnishes, of course). If you are going to puree the soup (I do not), vegetables can be just roughly chopped and ham added after the pureeing. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, loosely covered, for about 3½ hours (or up to 5 hours, depending on the peas), stirring occasionally. Remove ham, shred it using two forks and add it back to soup. Remove bay leaf and adjust seasoning. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish.