31 March 2016

Spaghetti Sauce - Meat Sauce

Spaghetti Sauce / www.delightfulrepast.com

Though I'd been cooking with my mother and grandmothers for years, I'd never made spaghetti or meat sauce. That I learned from my mother's friend Maggie when she came to spend a week with us shortly after we moved away when I was 13. Maggie was an alcoholic, so there were two Maggies. The drunk wild woman I couldn't stand and the sober intelligent woman who intrigued me.

She was on her best behavior during her stay, so I was treated to intelligent and witty conversation, introductions to books I'd never read and glimpses of the southern belle who'd been married to several men from all walks of life. It was during that "dry" week that her talents in the kitchen were revealed. Besides showing me how to make spaghetti, she gave me An Early Lesson in Mise en Place.

Spaghetti Sauce - Meat Sauce / www.delightfulrepast.com

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My friend Jo was recently lamenting the fact that she had no recipe for a really good spaghetti sauce that didn't call for Italian sausage or ground pork or anything else the average home cook isn't likely to just have on hand all the time.

So I went to work on that, and I think I've come up with a nice little meat sauce that captures some of those flavors without anyone having to run out to the shops to buy anything special. Most of us omnivores keep some ground beef in the freezer at all times. I always buy extra lean so there's no need to drain off the fat.

All the herbs called for are dried herbs because most of us don't have a ready supply of affordable fresh herbs all year round. It calls for a little wine (which you can skip if you don't use alcohol) because I almost always have about half a cup of leftover wine in the refrigerator. 

You can make it from start to finish in about an hour and a half, including the simmering time. Since I was just cooking for one today, I measured 2 cups (enough for 2 people) of sauce into each of 3 freezer containers for future meals and just ate the remaining cup myself over spaghetti.

Update 08/30/16: Here's how to make Shepherd's Pie Freezer Meals.

If you are out of marjoram (or never had any to begin with!), this is the time to get some. I taste as I go when I'm developing a recipe; and when I had everything in this sauce but the marjoram, there was just a little something not quite right. I thought, I bet a little marjoram would mellow this out just right. And it did!

Of course, with Mr. Delightful's aversion to "messy" foods, we'll be having this sauce on penne or rigatoni rather than spaghetti. How about you? Do you like long pasta or shapes?

Spaghetti Sauce - Meat Sauce / www.delightfulrepast.com

Spaghetti Sauce

(Makes about 6 servings)

1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 pound (454 grams) extra lean ground beef
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 14.5-ounce (411 grams) can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce (411 grams) can diced tomatoes
1 8-ounce (227 grams) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup water
1/2 cup dry red or white wine, optional

1 In large skillet or wide pan (I use a Le Creuset 3.5-quart stainless steel saucier), toast the fennel seed over low heat; pour toasted seeds onto chopping board or into grinder.

2 Heat olive oil in the now empty pan. Add chopped onion, green pepper and carrot; cook until softened, about 10 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, chop or grind the fennel seed; stir it in.

3 Add ground beef to pan and cook, breaking up into fairly fine pieces. As it browns, sprinkle on the Worcestershire sauce and salt.

4 Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer, loosely covered, for about 45 minutes. Of course, you can add more liquid and simmer longer with great results, if you have the time!

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24 March 2016

Vanilla Chiffon Cupcakes with Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting

Chiffon Cupcakes with Stabilized Whipped Cream Filling and Frosting / www.delightfulrepast.com

You really need a chiffon cake, rather than a butter cake, when you're making cakes with a filling or frosting that must be refrigerated. Chiffon cake is fine straight out of the refrigerator, but butter cake needs to be brought to room temperature for the proper texture. 

My recipe shows my basic chiffon cake formula of equal weights of flour and sugar with about the same weight of eggs out of their shells. I have no idea about the science behind that, but it works for me. Most chiffon cake recipes call for more eggs, but I don't like the resultant overwhelmingly eggy flavor.

These are wonderful with buttercream frosting, but I prefer whipped cream and so whipped up a batch of stabilized whipped cream. I hadn't made any since my cake decorating days, so I refreshed my memory with this wonderful stabilized whipped cream post from cake maker extraordinaire Brooks Walker.

Compared with buttercream, this is really "diet" frosting -- less fat and a lot less sugar. It's always been my habit to scrape off the frosting because it's always much too sweet for my palate. I'd rather have whipped cream, but regular whipped cream can't be piped ahead of time and sometimes you just don't want to be messing about with it at the last minute.

I didn't do a particularly good job of piping (having issues with my piping arm!), but I refrigerated half the cupcakes in a lidded Pyrex container for 24 hours and found them to be looking and tasting every bit as good the next day. This is my new favorite frosting, so I'll be making chiffon cupcakes more often than butter cupcakes. 

Update 03/29/16: I forgot to mention that you can also use the stabilized whipped cream as a filling, which I did on about six as an experiment. Just stick the piping tip into the top of the cupcake about halfway in and squeeze gently until the top of the cupcake starts to bulge.

And the stabilized whipped cream is perfect for pies, such as this Chocolate Cream Pie for Two!

Chiffon Cupcakes with Stabilized Whipped Cream Filling and Frosting / www.delightfulrepast.com

Vanilla Chiffon Cupcakes with Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting 

(Makes 18) 

The Cupcakes 

3 large eggs, separated 
1 dip-and-sweep cup (5 ounces/142 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (0.5 ounce/14 grams) GMO-free cornstarch
3/4 cup (5.25 ounces/149 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon (3 ounces/85 grams) organic canola oil
1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces/120 grams) water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

The Stabilized Whipped Cream 

4 teaspoons cold water 
1 teaspoon plain unflavored gelatin 
1 1/4 cup (10 fluid ounces) heavy whipping cream 
1/4 packed cup (1 ounce/28 grams) powdered sugar, sifted 
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt 

1 Separate cold eggs; bring yolks and whites to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas4. Line standard cupcake tins with paper liners. 

2 In bowl of stand mixer, beat egg whites to stiff peaks; set aside. 

3 In medium mixing bowl (I use a 2.5-quart), whisk together flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center, and add oil, water, egg yolks and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth.

4 In three batches, very gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter. 

5 Using a 1/4-cup measure, divide the batter among the 18 muffin cups. The cakes will puff quite a bit during baking but then settle back down. 

6 Bake the cupcakes for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove cakes from tins and cool completely on wire racks.

7 Measure the water into your smallest pan; sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the water. Let stand for 1 minute until the gelatin granules have plumped. 

8 Over low heat, stirring constantly melt the gelatin. Remove from heat; let it cool, but not to the point of setting, while starting to whip the cream. 

9 In mixing bowl, whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla extract until it begins to thicken. 

10 Whisk a little of the slightly whipped cream into the liquid gelatin until well blended. (If the gelatin has jelled, gently heat it again until liquid and let cool before using.) Add this mixture to the whipping cream in the bowl. Once it is incorporated at low speed, whip at high speed until stiff peaks form.

11 With a pastry bag fitted with a 2D tip or a 1M tip, pipe frosting on cupcakes. Refrigerate, covered, until serving time.

17 March 2016

Waterford Blaas - Irish Blaas - Yeast Buns

Waterford Blaas - Irish Blaas / www.delightfulrepast.com

The Waterford Blaa (pronounced "blah"), Ireland's only indigenous yeast bread, has just this week come to my attention and, of course, I had to make a batch straight away. I adapted my recipe for the floury white yeast buns from one in the UK newspaper, London Evening Standard

They're mainly served for breakfast, either as a buttered roll or as a breakfast sandwich filled with bacon (Irish back bacon), egg (fried) and sausage. Bacon and sausage is a bit extreme for me; when ordering the Full English I always ask for just bacon.

I've written the recipe for the stand mixer, though it can quite easily be made by hand. And I've added lots of details so that even if you've never made yeast doughs you will have success. Since "Waterford blaa" is a name with protected designation status (like the Melton Mowbray pork pie or Roquefort cheese), I'm just calling my recipe Irish blaas. But there's nothing "blah" about these buns! 

They've been around since the 17th century, so I'm a bit late to this party! If you're out of yeast or just looking for something a bit quicker, try my Irish Brown Soda Bread. And, in case your oven is otherwise occupied, here's the Irish Soda Bread - Slow Cooker Version.

Waterford Blaas - Irish Blaas / www.delightfulrepast.com

Waterford Blaas - Irish Blaas

(Makes 8 large buns)

3 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (17.5 ounces/500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
2 1/2 teaspoons (10 grams) sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons (10 grams) salt
1 tablespoon (9 grams) instant yeast
1 1/4 cup (10 fluid ounces/283 grams or ml) water
1 tablespoon (0.5 ounce/14 grams) unsalted butter

1 Measure flour into the bowl of the stand mixer; remove 3/4 cup (3.75 ounces/106 grams) and set it aside. (That will make sense to you if you are a weigher rather than a measurer.) Add sugar, salt and instant yeast to mixing bowl, and whisk to combine. Attach the flat beater and mixer bowl to the mixer. Heat the water and butter until quite warm, about 120F/49C to 130F/54C. On speed 2, mix in the warm liquid until thoroughly mixed. Remove the flat beater. Cover mixing bowl and let dough rest for 20 minutes. 

2 Attach the dough hook. On speed 2, add about 2/3 of the reserved flour (1/2 cup/2.5 ounces/71 grams) until dough forms a smooth ball that cleans the bowl. Continue kneading for 2 minutes, adding flour (from the remaining 1/4 cup) just 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the bowl. Set the timer for 4 minutes and knead the dough on speed 3. (My stand mixer, the Cuisinart SM-55, actually has a built-in timer.)

Note: The reason for all this gradually adding of the flour is that more bread has been ruined by the adding of too much flour than any other single cause. If some is kept back to be used in the kneading and shaping (and, in this case, the flouring of the pan and tops of buns), you avoid the problem.

3 Lightly oil a bowl or other container, preferably with straight sides (I use a 2-quart glass measure). Put the ball of dough in it, turning dough to oil all sides, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 30* minutes, or until doubled.

* It's a very quick rise with this quantity of yeast. If you wish to slow down the rises, cut back on the yeast. I'm never in this much of a hurry so will cut this back to not more than 2 teaspoons next time. 

4 Line a 13x9x1-inch quarter-sheet pan with parchment paper; dust it with about 2 teaspoons of the remaining flour (a little fine mesh tea strainer works well). Turn risen dough out onto lightly floured (still from that remaining 1/4 cup) surface, flattening gently to break up any large bubbles. Divide* dough into 8 equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the others covered. Roll each piece into a smooth ball, place on prepared baking sheet (in 2 rows of 4 buns). Press them down gently with palm of your hand to flatten them a bit so that they are touching.

* I'm a rather precise person, so I always use my OXO Good Grips 11-Pound Digital Scale to divide the dough precisely, making sure all my loaves and rolls are the same size. The pieces of dough in this recipe were 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) each.

5 Cover buns loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for about 30 minutes, or until doubled.

6 During the last 20 minutes, heat oven to 400F/200C/Gas6. Just before you put the buns in the oven, remove the plastic and dust them liberally with flour from the remaining. Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes, until golden. Leaving buns on the parchment paper, transfer them to wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature. If storing, cool completely before wrapping.

Disclosure: Some posts contain links to my affiliate account at Amazon.com. If you purchase something from Amazon through one of my links, I receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you, which I use toward the expenses of running this blog. Thanks for supporting Delightful Repast when you shop at Amazon!

10 March 2016

Chicken Enchilada Verde Casserole

Chicken Enchilada Verde Casserole / www.delightfulrepast.com

Chicken Enchilada Verde Casserole is what I call it. If you speak Spanish, you might call it Enchiladas Para la Mujer Perezosa (Lazy Woman's Enchiladas)! It's for those days when dividing the filling among a bunch of tortillas, rolling them neatly and fitting them attractively into a baking dish is just too much for you. 

Or maybe I'm the only one who has those days?

Because I prefer to make chicken enchiladas with flour tortillas, I first made this with flour. Then I tried it with corn tortillas (sooooo good!) and never looked back.

If I were making this for a company dinner, I'd serve it with a salad, beans and my Mexican Rice. But for a busy weeknight, it's just this and some steamed broccoli. Still very satisfying. And leftovers reheat beautifully in the toaster oven.

Where do you stand on the enchiladas versus enchilada casserole issue? My friend Jo rolls her eyes at the very idea of rolling enchiladas and always does a casserole. I'm definitely coming around to her way of thinking!

Chicken Enchilada Verde Casserole 

(Makes 6 to 8 servings) 

1 1/2 tablespoons (0.75 fluid ounce/22 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 pound (16 ounces/454 grams) boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
3/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
3/4 cup (4.5 ounces/128 grams) chopped onion
3/4 cup (3.375 ounces/96 grams) chopped bell pepper, any color
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces/43 grams) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons (1 ounce/28 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chili powder*
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups (16 fluid ounces/473 ml) chicken broth
1 cup (8 ounces/227 grams) sour cream
1 4-ounce (113 grams) can diced hot green chiles, drained
2 cups (8 ounces/227 grams) coarsely shredded Monterey jack cheese, divided
1 cup (8 fluid ounces/237 ml) canned crushed tomatillos, divided

12 5- to 6-inch corn tortillas, halved (or 6 8- to 9-inch flour tortillas, each cut into 4 wedges) 

* I don't use a commercial chili powder because they typically contain salt and garlic and other things. I make my own blend of two or three plain ground chili peppers.

1 Heat skillet and add olive oil to it. When oil is hot, place chicken thighs or breasts in skillet and season with about 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook, covered loosely, for 12 minutes. Turn chicken and season second side with about 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook, covered loosely, for another 12 minutes. Check for doneness; larger pieces might require a few more minutes.

2 Remove the chicken to a dinner plate. In the same skillet (no need to clean it) with the oil left from the chicken, cook onion for 5 minutes (or longer, if you like). Add bell pepper and continue cooking until tender, about 5 minutes.

3 While the onion and pepper are cooking, shred the chicken, using two forks; place in a 1-quart glass measure. You should have about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of shredded chicken. Add the onion and bell pepper to the chicken.

4 In the same skillet (again, no need to clean it), melt the butter and blend in the flour, chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cumin and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the broth, bringing the sauce to a simmer. When it begins to bubble, continue cooking and whisking for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

5 Stir 1/2 cup of the sauce, along with the sour cream, diced green chiles, 3/4 cup of the cheese and 1/4 cup crushed tomatillos, into the chicken. Taste and adjust seasoning; you might want to add about 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Lightly oil or spray a 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Spread 1/2 cup of sauce and 1/4 cup of crushed tomatillos over the bottom of the oiled baking dish.

6 Place a third of the tortillas in the baking dish. Spread half the chicken mixture over the tortillas. Add half the remaining tortillas. Spread remaining chicken mixture over the tortillas. Add the remaining tortillas. Cover with remaining sauce and crushed tomatillos. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover and refrigerate until an hour before serving time.

7 Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas4. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream and a squeeze of lime; garnish with cilantro or sliced green onions.


03 March 2016

Sourdough Bread Tips

Sourdough Bread Tips / www.delightfulrepast.com

To me, all yeast doughs are "magical," but there's no real magic to sourdough. Just wild yeast and lactobacilli doing their thing in their own sweet time, it's more art than science on the baker's part. As they say, it isn't rocket surgery! 

I've received so many questions about sourdough that I thought it was time to write another post about it. Time to dispel the myths! Really, nearly everything I've ever read on the subject makes it seem way more complicated than it is. 

If you are an experienced sourdough bread baker, you might be having wonderful success with entirely different methods than mine. If so, just keep on doing what you're doing. But if you're new to sourdough bread (true sourdough bread made with a wild yeast starter and no added commercial yeast), this post might be just what you need.

Sourdough Tips / www.delightfulrepast.com

First of all, here's How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter. And it doesn't require you to invest in a fancy crock or imported flour. You don't have to wait until grapes are in season or until you remember to pick up some distilled water.

Just do it!

You don't have to wait until you buy a digital kitchen scale (though it is a wonderful thing to have for many things). People sending me questions have quoted experts who give extremely precise directions for making a starter. 

Not necessary!

And you don't have to discard huge amounts of your starter. People sending me questions have pointed me to experts who would have them regularly discarding starter--both while they're starting the starter and when they're using the starter.

Not necessary!

Now then, after a week or two, you have a nice bubbly starter. How do you keep it going? Do you have to get a babysitter for it when you go on vacation?

Not necessary!

Sourdough Tips / www.delightfulrepast.com

Since I like to bake sourdough bread twice a week, I could probably just leave my starter on the counter; but I keep it in the refrigerator. If I'm not baking bread for a while, I have had the habit of taking it out and feeding it once a week as mentioned in my How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter post. But guess what?

Not necessary!

Once every three weeks would be good, but we had an incredibly long spell of heat and humidity that killed my interest in anything to do with the oven. And I totally ignored my little half-pint jar of starter for months as it gradually migrated to a back corner of the refrigerator. When I finally revived myself and remembered the starter, I was sure it would be past reviving.

Not true!

Sourdough Tips / www.delightfulrepast.com

Sure, it had separated into a couple layers and looked a little down on its luck, but I thought I should at least give it a try before I tossed it and started over. Hey, if I could be revived, anything could! I just took out a couple teaspoons of it and put it into a 2-cup glass measure and started feeding it. When I'm baking regularly, it just takes two feedings; but I fed this next-to-dead starter twice a day for a few days (small amounts, with NO discarding) until it was bubbly.

It was just fine!

So I put 2 tablespoons of the revived starter into a half-pint jar to store in the refrigerator, and I put the rest in a 2-cup glass measure to feed it up as directed in the Sourdough Artisan Bread post. (I most often make the Sourdough Sandwich Bread because Mr. Delightful finds it fits the toaster better.) 

Maintaining Sourdough Starter / www.delightfulrepast.com

I should also mention that the two sample schedules in that post are just samples. You don't have to be that structured. Most days, I do first feeding in the morning, second feeding in the evening, stir up the dough in the morning, let it rise until doubled (which can vary, but right now is about 6 hours), then shape the loaf, left it rise until doubled (which can vary, but right now is about 3 hours) and bake.

You'll find your own rhythm! 

So I guess the moral of the story is: Just do it! Sourdough seems to have a mystique about it that some might enjoy but that holds people back from giving it a try.

Don't be discouraged if your first bakes aren't completely successful. It takes a while to know your starter and your dough.

Just do it! And let me know if you have any questions.

PS Here's my recipe for Sourdough English Muffins.

Sourdough Tips / www.delightfulrepast.com