Sunday, July 26, 2015

Peach Upside Down Cake

Day 113

A perfectly ripe, juicy peach is my very favorite fruit. This year, I decided to enjoy fresh peaches as well as cooked peaches in cobblers and cakes. I hate to see the season end, honestly. Although it’s hard to beat a peach-blueberry cobbler, I couldn’t resist making my first peach upside down cake. I had heard of this cake, but until my two recent baking adventures, I had not tried one.
© Doug Kapustin Photography, 2015
 As a child, we often had pineapple upside down cake in the fall or winter as a treat. I looked forward to the delectable caramelized brown sugar topping, and I always stole the maraschino cherries from the center of each pineapple. To make something that is reminiscent of a traditional upside down cake but with peaches, I turned to a trusted southern source: Southern Living magazine. There is no better place to find tried-and-true southern recipes for all occasions, and I am a bona fide devotee. Every woman in my family who has enjoyed cooking over the years has used Southern Living’s recipes. Growing up, I distinctly remember that there was always an ear-marked copy of the latest magazine on top of the recipe book stack. Grandma and my aunts had folded down the pages to so many of the recipes that they could never try them all. In my house today, nothing has changed. You can find old copies of the magazine on almost every surface, folded and ear-marked for later.

Sure enough, it didn’t take lots of searching for peach cakes to find just what I was looking for this time. So, of course, today’s recipe is straight from the archives of Southern Living, and I know you will be pleased. If you feel even a little bit daunted by the steps, please give it a try anyway. It’s not difficult, just a bit time consuming to make the hot sugar topping. I promise that it’s so worth it. All the same, if you read the recipe and think “I’d eat this but would never take the time to make it”, please scroll to the bottom of the recipe for an alternative, “second best” version.

Oh, and I don’t know how you’ll feel, but for me, the down-home taste, texture, and feel of this cake, served warm with vanilla ice cream, makes me want to leave the hectic hustle and bustle of my present life to find a quiet place to breathe and to truly live. Having grown up on a farm, I’m fairly smitten with the idea of homesteading and have been researching it a bit. I think that’s what aging does to us; it makes us want to connect more and more with what really matters in life.  If flavors like today’s recipe stir those homesteading emotions in you, too, I highly recommend the website and blog that has become my relaxation therapy to read. Please visit this link:

Today’s “therapy” was reading the homestead author’s post about sturdy clothespins and the “Clothesline Revolution.” Don’t you love the sound of that? Although I’d surely get some sort of HOA citation for putting a clothesline in my backyard where I currently live, I sure do miss clothes dried outside.

How’s that for a tangent that I can’t comfortably bring full circle? Oh well! Enjoy the cake, and here’s hoping it transports you to your “happy place” as well.

Peach Upside Down Cake
Parchment paper
4 medium peaches, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch wedges or rounds
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 cup cake flour
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 ¼ cups sugar, divided
¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature and divided
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 large eggs
½ cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (This helps with cleanup.) Toss peaches with lemon juice.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

Cook ½ cup granulated sugar in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes or until sugar melts and turns a deep amber color. Remove from heat. Immediately add ¼ cup butter, stirring vigorously. Spread caramelized sugar to coat bottom of skillet evenly, and sprinkle with brown sugar. Arrange peach wedges over sugar mixture, overlapping if desired.

Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds into bowl of a mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat vanilla seeds and remaining ¾ cup granulated sugar, ½ cup butter at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add sour cream, beating until blended. Gradually add sifted flour mixture, beating at low speed just until blended, stopping to scrape bowl as needed. Spoon batter over peaches in skillet and spread to cover. Place skillet on prepared baking sheet.

Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown and wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in skillet on wire rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge to loosen.

Carefully pour excess liquid from skillet into a cup and reserve (If you don’t have any excess, that’s fine. It depends on juiciness of the fruit you use.). Carefully invert cake onto serving plate and drizzle with any reserved liquid. Cool about 10 more minutes and cut cake into wedges or pieces using a serrated knife. Top with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired, and serve immediately.

Recipe from Southern Living magazine, found at this link:

Something to consider—An easier alternative that is also tasty:
Just for those of you who prefer baking shortcut methods using cake mixes, I made an alternate version of this cake using a Pillsbury Super Moist butter recipe yellow cake mix for my second try. The results were not quite as rich and decadent as the Southern Living version, but they were tasty, all the same. For the cake mix, I didn’t use a skillet. Instead, I used a 9x13 baking pan, and I made the cake mix according to the package except that I substituted buttermilk for water and I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract in addition to the vanilla bean.

In the bottom of the 9x13, instead of pouring caramelized sugar, I simply melted the butter and sprinkled the sugar/brown sugar over the melted butter before arranging the peach wedges.

It did save time and was less messy, for sure. The cake turned out delicious, although I’d recommend the Southern Living version if you have the time. Some of you might be hesitant because of not owning the right skillet. If you don’t own a cast-iron skillet, please consider purchasing one. They are oh-so-useful and wonderful additions to your kitchen.

It’s up to you which version you make, but I’m learning more and more that investing a little more time into our recipes pays great flavor dividends. That being said, I know some of you have tremendous time constraints with work, family, and young children. Bottom line: do what works best for you and either way, take the time to enjoy these simple pleasures with your loved ones. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mediterranean Summer Salad

Day 112

       Inspiration for good hot weather food can always be found from Ina Garten’s recipes. Her panzanella and fattoush were just the recipes I needed with the drawer of fresh ingredients in my refrigerator. I decided to make something similar to Ina’s classics, but without actually following a recipe. I wanted to see if my flavor preferences would shine through successfully in a salad that requires a rather potent lemon vinaigrette. I also chose to use the
© Doug Kapustin Photography, 2015
ingredients in my refrigerator measured by my favorite flavors rather than adhering to a set recipe. It was worth a try, I ventured to say. Lastly, I didn’t like the idea of soggy fried pita bread in my salad. The first serving would be delicious, of course, but all thereafter might just seem like mushy bread.

Armed with a list of hopes and expectations, I washed my ingredients and prepped my chopping block to get down to business. I was happy with the results. My salad was fresh and tangy, and absolutely irresistible. It was perfect served with grilled pork tenderloin steaks that I had rubbed with salt, pepper, turmeric, and garlic before grilling. I also made some quartered fingerling potatoes tossed in olive oil and herbs and oven roasted at 450 degrees for about 25 minutes. As a potato dipping sauce, I pulsed a chopped shallot, one bunch of cilantro with half stems, two cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of horseradish, a 17.6 oz. tub of FAGE Total plain yogurt, salt, and pepper in a food processor. I make this all the time, and sometimes I add more of one ingredient or less of another, depending on my mood or what’s available; it’s hard to make this dip taste anything other than delicious.  As an aside, this dip is wonderful for so many things; it’s good on sandwiches, nice in salads if you add some lemon juice and olive oil, and a nice dip for any of your favorite raw vegetables or chips. Yay--a bonus recipe today! You’ll want to try this one too. Don’t be alarmed that it’s a lovely shade of green when you serve it. Also don’t be alarmed if your guests steal it to take home (or just lick the bowl if it’s almost gone after dinner). It’s that good.

So back to the Mediterranean Summer Salad… Try it soon—definitely before summer’s end—and you’ll probably have to turn the bowl to your mouth to drink the remaining juices, when no one is looking. Not that I’d ever do that. But you might.

Mediterranean Summer Salad*

2-3 large, perfectly ripe tomatoes, diced (about 2 lbs.—Or, large= a center cut could cover a slice of white bread)
5 small green onions, sliced white and green parts
2 medium cucumbers, peeled and diced (optional: one peeled and the other w/ peel on)
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
½ red onion, chopped
½ small green pepper, chopped
½ small red pepper, chopped
8 oz. Feta cheese with herbs, crumbled (buy block and crumble yourself for better flavor)
4 cloves minced garlic
½ cup lemon juice (fresh)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil (I recommend investing in Olea)
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add other ingredients and blend thoroughly. Taste to determine if more salt and pepper are needed. Refrigerate at least one hour for flavors to blend. Serve in a bowl with toasted pita bread as a lunch salad or alone as a dinner side.

*Most recently inspired by Ina Garten’s panzanella recipe and her fattoush at this link:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pecan Pie Tartlets

Day 111

Especially in winter, I am a sucker for pecan pie. The textures pull me right in, providing the perfect balance of creamy and crunchy. There are few desserts better than pecan pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Recently, my daughter Tate found a recipe that boasted pecan pie “cookies”, using piecrusts. We tried the recipe together and agreed that they are more akin to mini-tarts than cookies, but delicious all the same. Being able to pick them up rather than using a fork and plate was another advantage, for sure.

We thought we should share the link and recipe here, and if you’re a fan of pecan pie, you’ll love
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2015
these. It’s up to you whether you make your own piecrusts or use the refrigerated crusts; we used the pre-made ones this time.

And, on a completely different note but since we’re already on the topic of Tate and her fairly incredible cooking skills at a young age, I’ll share that she has made the same yummy dish three times this summer, always with rave reviews. It’s a shrimp mushroom fettuccine in paprika cream sauce that will knock your socks off. (or maybe just your flip flops since it’s summer). I don’t have a personal picture of the dish available right now (we eat it too fast for pictures, every single time), so I’ll just share the link. You HAVE to try this one!

Now, back to the pecan dessert. You’ll have fun with this one!

Pecan Pie Tartlets
2 prepared refrigerated pie crusts (homemade or purchased)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup pecans, chopped
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup corn syrup
4 eggs
¼ teaspoon salt

½  cup semi sweet or milk chocolate chip for decorating

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large non-stick pan, combine butter, pecans, brown sugar, corn syrup, salt and eggs. Cook on the stovetop over medium-low heat just until thickened. (You don't want it dry, just slightly thickened, about the consistency of pudding). Remove from heat and set aside.

Unroll dough and using a 3” cookie cutter, cut out circles. Gently fold about ⅛- ¼ " up on the edges. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the pecan mixture into each circle.

Place on a parchment lined pan (it's important to line it) and bake 8 minutes or until filling is just set. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Place chocolate chips in a small Ziploc bag (use brand name, the store brands tend to leak). Microwave about 15 seconds or until mostly melted. Snip off a tiny corner of the baggie and drizzle chocolate over the cookies. Cool until set.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Chocolate-Caramel Sticky Pudding

Day 110

As you can clearly see, this one isn’t pudding at all, so don’t let the name deceive you. In the tradition of English desserts, this is a very moist and decadent chocolate cake with a sticky sauce and a rich but surprisingly fluffy icing. I found the cake part of the recipe on a homesteader’s blog that I enjoy following (check it out:, and I just had to try it. Then, I wondered what would happen if I tried something completely different with it; what if I poured a hot
Photo by Maggie Kapustin
caramel sauce over the cake and covered it overnight? And, the next day, what if I made a heavy cream-mascarpone icing for it?  Sometimes when I question things like that, I set myself up for an immediate failure, but this time, it was a raging success.

It was such a success in fact, that when I shared the cake with coworkers and friends, I got some incredibly positive feedback. One colleague said it was “a wicked good dessert” while another said it should be renamed “better than sex cake”! I had to come straight home, take a picture of the tiny remaining sliver, and share the recipe here.

Oh man, who knows what words of pleasure you’ll exclaim after that first bite, but I’m sure they’ll be comparable to my colleagues’ affirmations. This cake really is better than…well…almost everything. Enjoy!

Chocolate-Caramel Sticky Pudding

The steps are:
1.     Make cake and put in oven to bake (recipe below).
2.     While baking, make caramel sauce (recipe below).
3.     Once cake is out of oven, use a fork, toothpick, or skewer to make little holes all over.
4.     Pour caramel sauce all over cake. It will look really wet, but that’s a good thing.
5.     Cover tightly and allow to rest 3 hours or overnight.
6.     Make heavy cream-mascarpone icing (recipe below). This should keep cold to stay firm, so store in refrigerator until ready to spread over cake, just before service.
7.     Store any leftover cake in fridge.
8.     Note: This cake can be served cold (simply add “refrigerate” to step 5) or room temperature. It has a “wet” texture at room temperature and a “supremely moist” texture in fridge. The icing must be refrigerated, though, so once it’s iced, the fridge is the only option.

Cake* Ingredients:
         2 cups sugar
            2 cups sifted unbleached flour
            1 teaspoon baking powder
            2 teaspoons baking soda
            1/4 teaspoon salt
            1/2 cup cocoa
            1/2 cup vegetable oil
            1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
            2 eggs
            1 cup whole milk
            1 teaspoon vanilla

Cake Instructions:
Sift together flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl and set aside.
In large mixing bowl dissolve cocoa in the hot coffee. Add oil and sugar, and mix well. Add flour mixture to the cocoa, coffee and oil mixtures.Stir in milk and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well until all blended. Cake batter will be runny. Using a 9x13 cake pan, pour batter into a greased and floured pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Do not over bake. Let cake cool completely on a wire rack.

*Cake recipe from the incredibly impressive and useful website “Our Simple Homestead” at this link:

Caramel Sauce* Ingredients:
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
½ cup half and half
½ cup heavy cream
1 stick butter
pinch salt
2 tbs. vanilla extract

Caramel Sauce Directions:
Mix brown sugar, half and half, heavy cream, butter, and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook while whisking gently for 5-7 minutes, until it gets thicker. It won’t be very thick. Add vanilla and cook another minute to thicken further. Turn off heat and cool slightly before pouring over warm chocolate cake.

*Sauce recipe is from the amazing Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. Don’t you just love her? As usual, her recipe is spot-on perfection. Thank God she cooks for a living so the rest of us can enjoy the fruits of her labor. And learn to cook a little better ourselves. Here’s the link to her original recipe:

Heavy Cream-Mascarpone Icing Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1- 8oz. container mascarpone cheese
Heavy Cream-Mascarpone Icing Directions:
In a mixer, whip all ingredients until stiff peaks form. If you realize you’ve whipped too much, add a bit more heavy cream and whip until desired consistency. (For this icing, the mascarpone holds the heavy cream longer than it would hold on its own.)