26 May 2016

Homemade Cake Mix - Vanilla Butter Cake

Homemade Cake Mix - Vanilla Butter Cake / www.delightfulrepast.com

I didn't grow up with a mom who used cake mixes, so I've never used them. But one day when I was making my vanilla butter cake and saw one of my quart jars sitting on the counter, I thought, Why not just measure out the dry ingredients for another cake or two while you're at it? After all, it's the measuring or weighing that takes the most time. 

And I've made this an easy one-bowl cake recipe that takes just a few minutes and starts with creaming the softened butter. I use a stand mixer for it, but you can use a hand mixer or even, as my mother usually did, just a big wooden spoon. I'll post variations soon, including chocolate, but included here are the directions for the vanilla butter cake. 

This makes a nice host(ess) gift when you've been invited to dinner and want to take something that the host(ess) can use later. You can do something fancier with the recipe card than I did here: just ivory card stock and kitchen string to tie it round the neck of the canning jar. 

Homemade Cake Mix - Vanilla Butter Cake / www.delightfulrepast.com

The texture of this cake is perfect, tender and fluffy but sturdy enough for layering and easy slicing.

And here is the Homemade Cake Mix - Chocolate Butter Cake.

Homemade Cake Mix 

(Makes two 8-inch layers or 24 cupcakes) 

The Cake Mix 

2 dip-and-sweep cups (10 ounces/283 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces/298 grams) sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt 

The Cake Batter 

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces/170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (8 fluid ounces/237 ml) milk, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

1 Into a quart canning jar for each cake mix, measure flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; whisk it with a fork; put on a lid. 

2 On baking day, bring the butter, milk and eggs to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas4. Grease well and lightly flour two 8-inch layer pans

3 In large mixing bowl (I use a Cuisinart stand mixer), beat the softened butter on medium speed for 1 minute. Add cake mix to butter; mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add milk, eggs and vanilla extract; mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. With mixer on medium-high speed, beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and beat on medium-high for another 30 seconds. 

4 Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. 

5 Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on racks for at least an hour, until completely cool, before frosting.

Or just top slices with lemon curd and whipped cream (as pictured below).

Homemade Cake Mix - Vanilla Butter Cake / www.delightfulrepast.com

19 May 2016

Meyer Lemon Curd - Made with Whole Eggs

Meyer Lemon Curd - Made with Whole Eggs / www.delightfulrepast.com

Lemon curd is a must at a proper afternoon tea. You can have clotted cream, either raspberry or strawberry jam, plain or fruited scones (even gluten-free scones); but if you don't have lemon curd, well, oh dear, I just might get a sudden headache and have to go home.

Mixing it up in the food processor is a breeze. If you don't have a food processor, use a very fine grater to grate the lemon zest and then use a mortar and pestle to grind it into oblivion with a bit of the sugar and a mixer to mix everything up before cooking.

Of course, if you want perfectly smooth curd without even the tiniest flecks of peel you'll need to strain it before it goes into the jars. And if you're going to strain it, you don't need to be quite so vigorous in your efforts with the zest. But I happen to love the tiny bits (so tiny as to be invisible, but you can feel them on your tongue).

Meyer lemons are my favorite, but if they aren't available in your area or at the time of year you're making this, just use regular lemons and perhaps as much as an extra 1/2 cup of sugar. That's what I'll be doing once I can no longer get the Meyers. Especially since you'll be using the outer peel, it is best to use organic or unsprayed and unwaxed lemons. 

I used to make my curd with 8 egg yolks, then at some point I decided to just try it with whole eggs. I love it! And there's no worry about having to find a way to use 8 egg whites within a day or two so they don't go to waste. There are times when I just don't want to make a pavlova or angel food cake; all I want is a couple of scones with a spoonful of lemon curd.

Meyer Lemon Curd - Made with Whole Eggs / www.delightfulrepast.com

Not sure you can tell from the photos, but the texture is perfect for scones and lemon tartlets and cake fillings. It's not overly thick and sticky like some storebought lemon curds. But it is thick enough to mound on the spoon and require a little shake of the spoon to dislodge it. (Making that point is precisely the reason for my rather same-y photos.)

Tell me, do you love lemon curd? What do you use it for?

Update 12/07/16: For how to throw an afternoon tea party and a roundup of afternoon tea recipes, see Afternoon Tea Party Tips.

Meyer Lemon Curd - Made with Whole Eggs / www.delightfulrepast.com


Meyer Lemon Curd

(Makes about 2 1/2 cups)

3 to 4 organic or unsprayed and unwaxed Meyer lemons
1 cup (7 ounces/) sugar
1 tablespoon (9 grams) non-GMO cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 stick (4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature

1 Have ready 3 half-pint jars or 5 quarter-pint jars (6, if you're using regular lemons and the added sugar). Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest of 3 lemons. Squeeze and strain the lemons, using the fourth lemon if needed, to get 1/2 cup of juice. 

2 In work bowl of food processor, process the zest with the sugar, cornstarch and salt until the zest is extremely finely minced (it disappears), about 30 seconds. Add the softened butter to the work bowl; process until mixed well, about 15 seconds. Add the eggs to the work bowl; process for 10 seconds.

3 Scrape the mixture into a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan (I use the Le Creuset stainless steel 2-quart saucier) and stir in the lemon juice. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula, until mixture is thickened and coats the spatula (and when you run a finger across it, it leaves a track). It should register 165F/74C on an instant-read thermometer. This will likely take about 10 minutes; do not boil.

4 Pour into 3 half-pint jars (one will be just partially filled) or 5 quarter-pint jars. Refrigerate for several hours before using and for up to 2 weeks. For longer storage, freeze for up to 3 months.

12 May 2016

Tomato Tea Sandwiches - and Wusthof Classic Serrated Utility Knife Review and Giveaway

Tomato Tea Sandwiches AND Wusthof Classic Knife Giveaway / www.delightfulrepast.com

Tomato sandwiches are one of the highlights of summer for me. Tomatoes, vine-ripened on an organic farm or backyard garden, on homemade white bread. With nothing but a bit of mayonnaise, salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Yes, I love whole grain bread and sourdough, but their flavors might be too strong for what I call my Purist's Tomato Sandwich. 

But today I was in the mood for tea sandwiches. Let's face it, when am I not in the mood for tea sandwiches! That calls for softened unsalted butter spread lightly on thin white bread, followed by a thin layer of mayonnaise. Whatever else might go into them--in this case, fresh basil and thinly sliced avocado--the tomatoes must be sliced paper thin.

As you know, that can be a bit of a problem. But I have the answer. The WÜSTHOF Classic 5-Inch Serrated Utility Knife - 4110 /14 cm. WÜSTHOF, being a German company, calls it a sausage knife in Germany. And it is perfect for slicing sausages, but since I don't slice a lot of sausages I prefer the other name.

I first heard of utility knives in one of those "pro chef names his five favorite kitchen tools" articles. At first I thought, I don't need one of those since I have great chef knives, paring knife, bread knife. Then I remembered all those times I was doing a cutting job too big for a paring knife and too small for even my smallest chef knife and so just grabbed an entirely inadequate steak knife.

So I was thrilled when WÜSTHOF sent me the serrated utility knife for review. Just in time for Tomato Season. And it is the perfect knife for cutting tea sandwiches. Tea sandwiches must be cut very cleanly; ragged edges are simply not the done thing. A knife this sharp makes quick work of cutting the dozens of sandwiches needed for an afternoon tea party.

Like all WÜSTHOF Classic knives, it has an extremely sharp blade with exceptionally long edge retention. And the handle just feels "right" in my hand. This knife is going to get a lot of use in my kitchen and out--it is my new, best ever, picnic knife! 

And they're going to send one to one of you! See entry details below. Please leave a comment for me about tea sandwiches, knives or whatever this post brought to mind.

Update 05/19/16: The giveaway is now closed; winner announced in comment section.

Update 12/07/16: For how to throw an afternoon tea party and a roundup of afternoon tea recipes, see Afternoon Tea Party Tips.

Tomato Tea Sandwiches - and Wusthof Classic Serrated Utility Knife Giveaway / www.delightfulrepast.com

Tomato Tea Sandwiches 

White bread, thinly sliced
Softened unsalted butter
Coarsely ground pepper
Perfectly ripe tomatoes, very thinly sliced
Optional: Fresh basil leaves, peeled and very thinly sliced avocado, shredded cheese, crumbled crisp bacon

1 Cut tomatoes in half vertically. Unless they are quite small, you might want to cut each half in half vertically again. With a very sharp knife (I use the Wusthof Classic 5-Inch Utility Knife), slice the tomatoes horizontally as thinly as possible. Lay the slices on a layer of paper towels or an impeccably clean kitchen towel to prevent having soggy sandwiches. 

2 Spread a very thin layer of very soft butter (never margarine) on each slice of bread, and then spread on a very thin layer of mayonnaise. Place a single layer of tomato on each of the bottom bread slices. Top with remaining bread slices. Trim off crusts and cut each sandwich into fingers or triangles, arranging on a plate in about three layers. 

3 Lay a good-quality white paper towel on top of the sandwiches. Wet and wring out well another paper towel; lay the damp paper towel on top of the dry paper towel. Never place the damp paper towel directly on top of the sandwiches or they will become soggy. Wrap rather snugly with plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least an hour or up to several hours. This will make your sandwiches “hold together” and keep them from drying out. When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator. Uncover sandwiches just before serving.

WÜSTHOF Giveaway

One winner will receive a WÜSTHOF Classic 5-Inch Serrated Utility Knife 4110/14cm from WÜSTHOF. All US residents (Sorry, international friends!) who leave a comment about knives (one entry per person - and please include your email address in the body of your comment) on this post before 11:59 pm Eastern time Wednesday May 18 will be put into a random drawing. Winner will be announced here in the comments before noon Eastern time on Thursday May 26. If I don't hear back from the winner of the random drawing by 11:59 am Eastern time Sunday May 29, another drawing will be held and a new winner selected from the original entrants (those who commented before the giveaway deadline).

Buy It Now WÜSTHOF knives, including the Wusthof Classic 5-Inch Serrated Utility Knife, are available on Amazon.

Disclosure: WÜSTHOF provided a knife for review purposes and for the giveaway. I received no compensation. The views expressed here are entirely my own. I always tell my readers what I really think!

05 May 2016

Pasta with Chicken and Spring Vegetables - and Why I'll Never Be a Minimalist

Pasta with Chicken and Spring Vegetables / www.delightfulrepast.com

I've been reading a lot about minimalism and decluttering in recent years. I admire minimalists, but I know I'll never be a real one. Though I like to keep my possessions down to MY minimum, I'll never get them pared down to the point where I can actually count them. 

Having grown up with a mother who, shall we say, kept a huge inventory, I was always determined to not get carried away. Since a very dear maternal aunt, unchecked by a husband as my mother was, really had a problem, I figure a predisposition to hoarding is in my genes, so I am ever vigilant.

When my adult life began, I knew instinctively that having a small house, small garage and no storage sheds or off-premise storage units would help keep a lid on things. And I've followed the one-in-one-out rule for decades, so my limited storage space is never outgrown.

In a post at the beginning of 2015 I wrote about tackling a specific issue (no, I'm not going to tell you here, you'll just have to read it!). It took nearly the entire year, but the gradual process not only solved the problem but actually seems to have cured the root cause.

Lately I've been feeling the need to get rid of more things, not to make space for new things, but just to enjoy the space. Please understand that I do not mean this as a criticism of people who are enjoying their stuff. I'm not one of those people who feels superior about whatever it is I'm up to at any given time.

Here's something (actually, 20 "somethings") that's going out in this latest purge. Snack sets. They were given to me by the aforementioned dear aunt many years ago. 

Vintage Snack Set / www.delightfulrepast.com
Hazel-Atlas Glass Company, Pattern Number 1305, Ball & Ribbed Design
Snack Plate and Cup Set aka Snack Sip and Smoke Set

Can you see that slot where the handle of the little spoon is resting? That was actually made to hold a cigarette! That little section of the snack plate is, yes, a built-in ashtray! (I googled "glass snack set with built-in ashtray" and found a seller on Etsy calling them "Snack Sip and Smoke Sets.") My aunt couldn't recall what year she bought these, just that they were from the heyday of smoking during the 40s and 50s. She never smoked (and, consequently, lived to nearly 95) but was fascinated by that feature.

When I used them for tea parties, I got the brilliant idea of using that slot for the tiny spoons I use for tea. These snack sets are really lovely for bridal and baby showers because the cup can be used for punch, coffee or tea, and the plate is large enough to hold some serious snacks.

But I no longer do events like that in my home. I will make food or bake and decorate a cake for such occasions held at a friend's house, but I don't foresee ever again having more than a dozen people over. So these, lovely as they are, can go. It's time. I still have plenty of china for my afternoon teas and dinners.

Why will I never be a minimalist? I'm in the business of food, and that involves a lot of equipment. But I'll be cutting back. Really. I will. In the meantime, finally, here's ...

The Recipe

Springtime Pasta / www.delightfulrepast.com

Springtime Pasta

Farfalle with Chicken and Spring Vegetables

(Serves 4)

8 ounces farfalle (bow-tie pasta), cooked according to package directions
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot
3/4 pound thin asparagus, cut into 1½-inch pieces
1/2 pound young sugar snap or Chinese pea pods
1 large red bell pepper, julienned
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream (I use Organic Valley)
1 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, more for garnish
1/2 cup freshly grated (not shredded) Parmesan

1 Forty-five minutes before serving time, start heating 4 quarts water with a tablespoon of salt for cooking pasta. Prepare ingredients. 

2 Five minutes before adding pasta to the boiling water, start sauce. In 12-inch skillet which has a lid, heat olive oil. Pat dry the chicken pieces and season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Add to hot oil and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

3 Add minced shallot and continue cooking for a minute or two. Add wine and deglaze pan. Add asparagus (except tips), pea pods, red bell pepper and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat until vegetables are nearly crisp-tender, about 2 or 3 minutes. 

4 Uncover and stir in asparagus tips, cream and dill. Simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in Parmesan; taste and adjust seasoning (it's important to stir in the Parmesan before adding more salt). Pour over hot, drained pasta. Mix well, divide onto four warm plates, and garnish with more dill and Parmesan. 

(Recipe first posted 09 May 2013. I was making it this week and thought I'd see if I couldn't take a better photo of it than I did three years ago. Not sure that I did! New one at top of post, old one just above the recipe.