Hurray for Upside Down! Georgia Peach, Bourbon and Cherry-Studded Skillet Cake

cake6***Warning. A healthy, low calorie, vegan or gluten-free post is not ahead.*** 

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those types of recipes, but this isn’t one. Nope, not even with the fruit. Still with me? Here’s a dessert that’s worth the calories.

Skillet cakes have been around for a long, long time, and inverting skillet cakes to show off a topping dates back as far as the middle ages. Maybe that’s why the mere mention of a pineapple upside down cake or a tarte tatin makes our mouths start to water and our eyes grow wider in anticipation of that very first bite.

The universal appeal of these cakes has been bred into us. This is particularly true in the Southern United States, where pineapple upside down cake has played an integral part in holidays and a served as a symbol of Southern hospitality since Jim Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company ran a nationwide recipe contest in 1925 for utilizing canned pineapple. The response was overwhelming, receiving some 2,500 recipes for the festive cherry-studded pineapple wonder cake alone!

Of course most any fruit can serve as the “upside down” star of a skillet cake. And today it’s time to move over, pineapple, because there’s a new symbol of Southern hospitality in town. PEACHES ARE KING.

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How could you possibly say no to a slice of this peachy keen cake?

Georgia is in the midst of a banner peach season which started in May, so it was only a matter of time before I used some fine local peaches to make a cake. I particularly enjoy fresh peaches with cherries. And when they’re combined with the customary brown sugar and butter topping of an upside down cake, these two fruits take on a lusciously glossy appearance with an absolutely divine light caramel taste. A good measure of cinnamon added to the batter brings warmth and extra flavor to the cake. Splash a little Kentucky bourbon into that batter and sprinkle a bit more over the top of this cake when it’s hot out of the oven, and you’ve got a real winner.

While the warning at the beginning of this post does apply, this cake is actually quite light to eat with an appealing, fluffy crumb. By scaling back on the butter and sugar found in a typical upside down cake recipe, the cake still retains just the right amount of caramelized goodness that one expects, but without the overpowering sweetness. It makes a beautiful and company-worthy cake that really stands alone, but you can guild the lily if you must by adding a dollop of whipped cream alongside—for nostalgic purposes, of course.

Just look at all of that cinnamon goodness and the crumb on this cake!

Just look at all of that cinnamon goodness and the crumb on this cake!

I foresee this basic cake recipe working well in the winter season, too, by using fresh apples and cinnamon scented with some orange zest or fresh pears with lemon, ginger and brandy. Really, the possibilities are endlessly delicious.

cake7Georgia Peach, Bourbon and Cherry-Studded Upside Down Skillet Cake
Makes 8 Generous Servings
Make this cake in a well-seasoned, 10-inch cast iron skillet. It will not be the same made in a cake pan and will be harder to release as well.

Ingredients for the Topping:
1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) of unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups of peeled and sliced fresh peaches, Georgia or other (about 4 medium peaches)
1/2 cup pitted fresh sweet cherries, cut into halves

Ingredients for the Cake Batter:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (3/4 stick)
1 cup granulated sugar (I use cane sugar)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon Madagascar Bourbon vanilla
1 tablespoon Kentucky bourbon, if you’ve got it, or other good quality bourbon
1/2 cup milk (2% is fine)

2 additional tablespoons of Kentucky bourbon to sprinkle over the finished cake

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a well seasoned, 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium low heat, then add the brown sugar and stir while the mixture gently simmers for about 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and lay the peach slices facing in the same direction into the skillet on top of the sugar mixture, creating a circular fan design. Stud the peaches with the cherries, cut side down.

In a small bowl, sift together the first 4 ingredients for the cake batter. In a large mixing bowl, beat the softened 6 tablespoons of butter with a hand mixer until it’s light and fluffy on low, then add the granulated sugar in three additions. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla and the bourbon and beat to combine, then add half of the flour mixture, beating until just blended. Beat in the milk, then add the remaining flour mixture, beating until just blended. Spoon the batter into the skillet on top of the fruit topping, smoothing until it is evenly spread.

Bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is a golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow the cake to stand in the skillet for 5 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the outer edge of the cake and invert the cake onto a large cake plate. Be sure to keep the cake plate and the skillet completely pressed together while inverting, then gently remove the skillet from the cake and replace any fruit that may stick to the bottom. (If your pan is well-seasoned, the fruit shouldn’t stick.) Sprinkle the top of the cake with the 2 tablespoons of bourbon and allow the cake to cool on the plate on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature as is, or garnish with whipped cream or even vanilla ice cream, if you must…I understand.

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It’s hard to believe something that looks like this when it comes out of the oven can be turned upside down and become a show-stopper.

Cooling Comforts: Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad

finished 1“We’re havin’ a heat wave, a tropical heat wave….”

The rest of Irving Berlin’s song doesn’t apply, but the first line has been painfully true here these last few weeks. Close to 100 degrees F in June? Yeah, that’s pretty hot, even for the South. Now it’s July, and we can expect more of the same.

There are many ways to cool off in the heat of Summer. You can enjoy the air conditioning, mercifully. In your free time you can hike along cool streams and rivers and take a dip or jump into a pool…or even a run through a sprinkler will do if you don’t have a water ban. And you can enjoy sipping cooling beverages and eating foods that are appropriate to the season. I’ll take all of the above, but am here to talk about the latter.

Farro had become one of my new best friends. I love its look and really enjoy its chewy texture, especially in a salad. Last summer, I posted a Fruited Farro Salad that you can see by clicking on the name. It’s a savory sweet salad, wonderful as a side dish or a light lunch. This summer I’m into quick one dish meals, particularly if they involve heating anything up other than an outdoor grill. This Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad really fits the bill and I never get tired of it.

First off, it features some of my favorite ingredients like meaty portobello mushrooms and fresh grape tomatoes, which are roasted in olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper to intensify and concentrate their flavors. Then I add lots of fresh herbs from my garden, the farro, some chopped Parmesan cheese and a lemon scented dressing. Served at room temperature or cold, this salad is very refreshing while still being hearty enough to eat on its own as a light meal. It also pairs well with grilled meats and other veggies. And best of all, it’s a deliciously cool way to enjoy the season.

Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad
Serves 6-8

For the salad:
2 cups uncooked farro
Pinch of kosher salt
6 oz. Portobello mushroom caps, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup of finely chopped Parmesan cheese

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Place the uncooked farro in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with water. Allow the farro to sit for 20 minutes, then drain off the water and add more water to cover it by an inch. Add a pinch of salt, bring the water and farro to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover, allowing to cook until the farro is just done but still has some chew to it, about 20 minutes. Drain the farro really well and transfer to a large bowl to cool.

While the farro is cooking and cooling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Make a second foil packet about half the length of the baking sheet and turn up the edges to make a square “tray” of foil. Toss the portobello mushrooms with a tablespoon of the olive oil and distribute them in one layer on one side of the baking sheet, then toss the grape tomatoes with the other tablespoon of olive oil and place them in the foil tray on the other side of the baking sheet. Season the mushrooms and the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Roast them in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked through and crispy on the edges and the tomatoes have softened. Remove from the oven when fully roasted and set aside to cool for at least 5 minutes.

Add the cooled roasted mushrooms and tomatoes, parsley, basil and thyme to the cooked farro and toss gently to combine. In a separate small bowl, combine the lemon juice, salt and pepper, then whisk in the 6 tablespoons of olive oil to emulsify. Pour the dressing over the farro mixture and toss gently, then add the parmesan and stir again gently to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Allow the flavors to blend for 30 minutes at room temperature and serve. Refrigerate any unused salad for up to 3 days.

steakandsalad

An Anniversary and an Easy Fresh Fruit Tiramisu

PeachMelba7BHi Everyone! I hope that your last couple of months (yes, two months almost!) have been lovely. All is well here. My time has been spent helping family get through some surgery and recovery, traveling, work, hiking, birthdays…you know, life in general. But all is good, I’m back online and ready to share more trails leading to good food.

I’ll start off by mentioning that not only is this my 200th post, but today is the 4 year anniversary of this blog! That first post, Ode to Red Speckled Grits, was all about testing the waters of websites and blogging…and once I started, I was hooked. Thanks to all of you who found me, encouraged me and joined me in this adventure. And thanks for sharing your own blogs while giving me informative and fun dialog along the way. Please join me for the beginning of the next 4 years!

Celebrations require some dessert, and with all of the lovely fruits available in this almost summer season, I want to share a quick and easy celebratory recipe where fresh fruit is the star. I’ve always loved tiramisu…the little “pick me up” from Italy. The traditional recipe involves a rich and delicious combo of ladyfingers, cream, mascarpone, coffee, marsala wine, chocolate and sometimes egg yolks. Nothing wrong with that.

This version, however, is a little lighter take on the original and can be quite versatile in terms of changing out seasonal fruits and whatever booze strikes your fancy. Filled with juicy berries and peaches, creamy mascarpone cheese lightened with yogurt and a bit of fresh citrus zest for some zing—along with the traditional ladyfingers and liquor—this satisfying dessert keeps much of the texture and feel of the original tiramisu with about half the calories. It’s a “pick me up” that comes together quickly, resulting in a cool, light and elegant dessert, just perfect for the hot weather season or whenever you need a delicious finish to a meal. Try my two variations below and then have some fun experimenting on your own.

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Easy Fresh Fruit Tiramisu for 2
(can be doubled or quadrupled as needed)

For Blueberry-Peach-Almond Tiramisu:
3/4 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried
1 cup fresh peaches, peeled and sliced, with their juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
3 generous tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 generous tablespoon plain greek yogurt (I use 2%)
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
3 teaspoons of amaretto, divided
4 hard italian ladyfingers (can use the soft kind if you prefer, but hard holds up better)
1 generous tablespoon of toasted, slivered almonds

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, mascarpone, yogurt, powdered sugar and one teaspoon of Amaretto, until smooth. Break two ladyfingers into four pieces each and place four pieces (one ladyfinger for each glass) into the bottom of two pretty glasses…low ball, brandy snifter or wine glasses work perfectly. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of Amaretto per glass over the ladyfingers. Spoon 1/4 of the peaches and some juice over the ladyfingers in each glass, then top with 1/4 of the blueberries per glass. Layer 1 generous Tablespoon of the mascarpone mixture on top of the fruit in each glass. Sprinkle 1/4 of the toasted almonds into each glass. Repeat the layers with the remaining ladyfingers broken into 4 pieces each, the Amaretto, peaches, blueberries and mascarpone mixture evenly divided, and finish with the remaining toasted almonds. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to blend. Serve and enjoy.

Peachmelba1For Peach “Melba” Tiramisu:
Substitute 3/4 cup fresh raspberries for the blueberries, orange zest for the lemon and Grand Marnier for the Amaretto. Omit almonds and proceed the same as for Blueberry-Peach-Almond, garnishing the top with a raspberry and some fresh mint, if desired.

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A few scenes from our latest adventures in North Carolina.

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Mini, Customizable Quiches. Maximum Flavor!

finishedcloseup-2Whether you make them for a brunch buffet, as a cocktail nibble or to take to a pot luck party, these mini quiches are fun to make and even better to eat!

The best thing about them (in addition to their taste, of course) is that they are so very customizable. Leave out the meat for a tasty vegetarian option, or add a meat of your choice for the carnivores and omnivores in your crowd. You can mix and match your add-in’s for endless combinations, taking advantage of what’s in season as well as making multiple flavors in one batch. And you don’t have to feel guilty about these little pleasures because they are truly two-bite sized, even though they are powerfully large in flavor.

I made these above (click each photo for more detail) to take to a pot luck and they were gone within minutes. Then I started thinking about how great it would be to make them as part of a brunch buffet…my next endeavor, or possibly bake and freeze them…haven’t tried it, but I will.

This batch features caramelized onion on both versions, then broccoli and cheddar cheese in one half of the batch and sautéed mushrooms with gruyere cheese in the other. Future combos will be Italian sausage or finely chopped chorizo, red bell pepper, onion and a little grated Manchego or mozzarella cheese, and another version will feature ham and/or asparagus and parmesan cheese. What fun! It’s truly like playing with your food.

finished-1Below is the recipe for these, a variation on one of my larger quiche recipes utilizing the same custard base. Enjoy playing with these and making them your own!

***Note, I will continue to be a bit erratic with my posting as I spend time with family on and off for the next few weeks. Bear with me. One of these days I’ll get back on a more regular schedule, I promise!

Caramelized Onion, Brocoli and Cheddar Mini Quiches and Caramelized Onion, Mushroom and Gruyere Mini Quiches
Makes about 32

1 uncooked refrigerated 9-inch pie crust
1 medium sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups fresh broccoli crowns, blanched in boiling water for 3 minutes, drained and dried
4 ounces button mushrooms, sliced, then halved
2-3 teaspoons olive oil
Generous 1/2 cup of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
Generous 1/2 cup of grated gruyere or swiss cheese
4 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup 1% milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place half of the olive oil into a large skillet heated to medium low heat, add the onions and sauté until they are caramelized, about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with a tiny pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the onions from the skillet when they a nice medium golden brown color and set aside. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet, then add the mushrooms, sprinkling with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper, and sauté them over medium low heat until they are done and tender, about another 5-8 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the skillet and set aside.

Roll your piecrust out on a floured surface as though you were planning to put it into a 9-inch pie plate, about a 14-inch round. Using a 1 1/2-inch biscuit cutter (or a water glass), cut out as many rounds as you can fit out of the rolled pie crust, saving the scraps. Roll each individual round a bit more to ensure that it will just fit into the muffin tin, then place into the tin, fully covering the bottom and sides of each depression. Gather the pie crust scraps and roll out the crust again, using the same cutting and rolling process to fill the remaining muffin tins until all of the crust is used. Layer the onions first into the bottom of each crust. Next add a tiny piece or two of broccoli floret on top of the onion to 1/2 of your total crusts. Add two to three pieces of mushroom on top of the onion to the remaining 1/2 of your total crusts. Sprinkle about a rounded teaspoon of grated cheddar cheese over each broccoli quiche and the same amount of gruyere over the mushroom quiches.

In a blender or food processor, combine the 4 eggs, the milk, the cream, the nutmeg and another small pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Blend until well mixed. Pour the egg mixture over the top of the layered ingredients on all of the mini-quiches, filling to just slightly below the rim of the depression and not above the edge of the crust. (Any leftover add-ins, cheese and custard can be placed into well greased ramekins and cooked alongside the mini-quiches to make small crustless quiches. These may need a little longer to cook than the minis!) Place the filled mini quiches into the oven on a center rack and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, until the custard is golden, puffed and just set. When the quiches are done, remove from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Pop each one out carefully with a knife and serve warm or at room temperature.

*For other add-ins, just cook or prepare your ingredients prior to the layering stage, then layer them adding the cheese last, then pour the custard.

Easy Curried Butternut Squash Soup

soup5RSoup prepared any time of the year is a welcome repast in our house. One of the things I love about soup is the infinite variety of tastes and textures that it can provide. Whether hot or cold, savory or sweet, thick, chunky or thin…all soups say “comfort” to me.

Spring is here, the trees are blooming and my hellebores are having a banner year. The daffodils and tulips have been in full glory this week and even the azaleas are showing a little color in their buds. Our temps have ranged up to 80 degrees F on and off for the past few weeks and we’ve enjoyed spending a few nights grilling out on our deck…when it hasn’t been raining. Today is another beautiful day—but cold, and it’s due to go back down to freezing tonight. Seems like a perfect time to make a warming pot of soup! Continue reading

Spiced Beluga Lentil and Spinach Salad-Three Ways!

spicedlentilandspinachsaladwithfriedegg1

This tiny beluga lentil is now my most favorite legume.

When I first met the Puy, or French Green Lentil, it was love at first taste. All those pretty little green disks of peppery, firm goodness combined with a bit of very finely diced carrot, celery, some thyme and tossed a light vinaigrette. Served as a lovely French green lentil salad…absolute heaven on a summer’s day.

Then there was the red lentil. Mellow, sweet and mysterious. They start off red and turn gold and soft when cooked, perfect for making a naturally thickened and richly spiced soup. I love to make curried lentil stew with these babies…filled with some Indian spices and a little tomato. Winter warmth personified in a bowl.

Also good for soups is the more commonly found brown lentil. It holds it shape a bit better when cooked and has a mild, earthy flavor that combines well with other ingredients as a hearty soup or an Indian dal. As a side dish, they’re especially nice seasoned with some spices and caramelized onion and served over plain, brown or nutty wild rice. I’ve had some mighty fine lentil burgers made from brown lentils, too.

And then along came the beluga lentil, crossing my radar and changing everything. Continue reading

Time to Catch Up with Some Recipes New and Old

Potsdecreme1I’m in denial that February is almost over. It seems like this year is flying by even faster than the last. Although for those of you in the northern U.S. and Canada who have had weeks upon weeks of tremendous snow, I’m sure Spring can’t arrive fast enough!

So what’s been happening here? Well, we’ve tried to get back into our wonderful hiking schedule every Saturday, but winter weather—even here in the deep south—can be daunting. We’ve managed a few nice, long hikes so far this year, but will probably  have to wait until March or so to get back to our routine. Here are a few scenes from some those hikes and as you can see, even winter forest is quite lovely. Enjoy these moments of peace and solitude along with the myriad of textures and pattern that a winter forest reveals. Continue reading

The BEST Chocolate “Fudge” Pie

You know how you have those favorite recipes you keep in your handwritten book and make over and over again, so much so that they become as much a part of you as they were of the person who wrote them originally? This is one of those. As promised, the second of my savory and sweet pie posts, and this time it’s a fantastically easy and absolutely delicious pie of the sweet variety, the perfect dessert for all occasions. Continue reading

Rustic Spinach, Pancetta, Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Quiche

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Not the most carefully composed nighttime shot, but a nice quiche just the same!

Sometimes pie is just the right thing for dinner or dessert. This is the first of two pie recipe posts…one savory pie and one sweet.

My spurt of pie making started when my friend Diane gave me a wonderful authentic ceramic pie plate from Colonial Williamsburg as a birthday present and I’ve been making pies with it ever since. It was the perfect vehicle for inspiring this quiche with it’s cozy colors and even clay cooking. Of course you can use any pie plate you happen to have, but I like either clay or glass pie plates for cooking a quiche. Continue reading

Chicken, Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup…just what the doctor ordered!

bowlofsoup2I’m baaaaack!!! I hope all of you had really lovely holidays and that 2015 has been a great year for you so far!

I apologize for the radio silence for so long, as even with taking some time off for the holidays, I certainly didn’t intend to stop posting for so long. It appears I became a bit run down by the time Christmas was around the corner and I managed to contract one bug after another. I’m now finishing up my third cold/flu/stomach thingy in as many weeks. I know it’s been going around, but for someone who rarely gets sick, I think I’ve had more than my fair share! Definitely not what I had in mind in ringing in a new year. My heartfelt thanks to you all for hanging in here with me in spite of my lack of posting. I assure you that I’m more than ready to get back to my regular programming.

Winter is now upon us and it’s been very cold here indeed. And with the chilly weather my thoughts naturally turn towards soup. A nice, hearty soup is just the perfect meal to brighten up these short, dark days and warm you up. And a chicken soup has the added benefit of all those famous medicinal qualities. Continue reading