Peach Upside-Down Cake from Secrets of the Southern Table by Virginia Willis

At the beginning of this year, I decided to make more recipes that will challenge my culinary skills. This past weekend, I did just that when I baked Peach Upside-Down Cake from Secrets of the Southern Table by Virginia Willis

I've been following Virginia Willis on social media for a while, and bought a ticket to a dinner she hosted in DC as soon as I saw it announced. The dinner was part of her book tour for the newly released Secrets of the Southern Table. I received a preview copy of the book from Virginia's publishers, and as soon as I tried the Peach Upside-Down Cake at dinner, I knew I'd have to make it. 

During the dinner I also tried and loved Virginia's shrimp and grits, but the highlight of the night was hearing about the new cookbook and the stories of Southern cuisine. Virginia researched the book for a year and shares stories of farmers, makers and growers, and immigrants who have impacted the food. You'll learn that Southern cuisine is not just okra, shrimp and grits, and fried chicken. The book includes recipes for dishes such as shredded beef arepas, Mexican chocolate pudding, tomato-ginger green beans, and chicken and butterbean paella.

But let's talk about cake for now!

This was my first time making an upside-down cake, and I was nervous. Would it come out as light and flavorful as Virginia's? Will it stick to the cast iron skillet? Will my friend who came over for her belated birthday celebration like it? Well, I had nothing to worry about.

PEACH UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE from SECRETS OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE by VIRGINIA WILLIS. Copyright © 2018 by VIRGINIA WILLIS. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Peach Upside-Down Cake
Serves 10

Southern peaches are something special. The trouble is, you pretty much have to live in the South to understand what the fuss is about, because peaches bought elsewhere are most often picked green and hard before shipping. 

When ag-entrepreneur Stephen Rose moved to Nashville in the summer of 2010, he made a disheartening discovery: No one was selling fresh, flavorful peaches like the kind he’d grown up with in Peach County, Georgia. He had an idea. He and his wife bought a 1964 Jeep truck and started selling big, beautiful, juicy Georgia peaches out of their cab in Nashville. Within five weeks, the city had consumed over ten tons of their brown-bagged peaches. Now the Peach Truck Tour travels through Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania!

Pineapple upside-down cake is a Southern classic and is most often made with canned pineapple.

This version uses fresh peaches and is a vast improvement, in my opinion. You can use all-purpose flour instead of the cake flour, but the results will be a bit heavier and slightly dense.

4 medium peaches (about1½ pounds), unpeeled and cut into⅓-inch-thick wedges
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup cake flour, not self-rising
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
10 tablespoons (½ cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
2 large eggs
½ cup sour cream

Bourbon Cream (recipe follows)

1.Heat oven to 350ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. (This step helps with cleanup.)

2.Toss the peaches with the lemon juice in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

3.Cook ¼ cup of the granulated sugar over medium heat in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for 10 minutes, or until the sugar melts and turns a deep amber color. Remove from the heat. Immediately add 2 tablespoons of the butter and stir vigorously. Arrange the peach wedges in concentric circles over the sugar mixture, overlapping them as needed.

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

5.Bake until golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the skillet on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge to loosen.

6.Carefully pour out any excess liquid from the skillet into a measuring cup and set aside. (It’s okay if you don’t have any excess liquid—it all depends on how juicy your fruit is.) Carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate and drizzle with any reserved liquid. Let cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Cut into wedges using a serrated knife. Top with bourbon cream and serve immediately.

Bourbon Cream

Makes about 1 cup

½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon bourbon

1.Combine the cream and bourbon in a large bowl. Refrigerate, along with a whisk, for at least 15 minutes. Once chilled, beat the cream with the chilled whisk until it holds soft peaks, 3 to 5 minutes.

The recipe was incredibly easy to follow and filled my condo with such a sweet aroma. I used only 3 peaches and vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean. The cake had no trouble coming out of the cast iron skillet and had crispy edges, while remaining tender on the inside.

I did not have bourbon and used orange flavored vodka for the topping ;)

The only downsize of this baking project was the mess I left in my kitchen!


Summer Eggplant, Zucchini & Pepper In A Pressure Cooker

Good morning! It's another Monday, and I have another Meatless Monday recipe for you. Don't worry, I eat plenty of meat ;)

Last night I was thinking about how to use summer produce I had in my refrigerator including an eggplant, red pepper, and a zucchini. I considered making ratatouille, but could not be bothered to saute all the vegetables in a skillet. Instead, I decided to literally dice and dump all the vegetables into my pressure cooker and call it a night. The results were awesome!

Summer Eggplant, Zucchini & Pepper In A Pressure Cooker
Serves 4-6

1 large eggplant, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste
drizzle olive oil
1/3 cup chopped parsley, more to garnish

1. Add all the ingredients into a pressure cooker (other than the garnish parsley). 
2. Using the vegetable option, pressurize for 10 minutes.
3. Release the steam, taste, add more salt if needed. Serve topped with chopped fresh parsley.

My condo smelled so good! You can serve this dish as a side, use it as a base for shakshuka, puree into a soup, or pulse a few times in a food processor to turn into a chunky salsa.


Broccoli Rabe With Hazelnuts & Feta

I don't know about you, but I love the slightly bitter taste of broccoli rabe. To me, it's a grown up version of broccoli, and is so much prettier with thinner stalks and beautiful leaves. Paired with other strong flavors, whether salty, sweet, or spicy, broccoli rabe's bitterness is lessened, and you end up with a quick and easy dish that can be a light meal in itself or a great side.

Broccoli Rabe With Hazelnuts & Feta
olive oil
broccoli rabe
red pepper flakes
feta, crumbled

1. Heat a non stick skillet. Drizzle in olive oil. Allow the oil to heat.
2. Add broccoli rabe to the skillet, season with salt and red pepper flakes and quickly saute until the vegetables are tender.
3. Meanwhile, in a different skillet, lightly brown whole hazelnuts in a bit of olive oil and season with salt. Even if your nuts are already toasted, this will wake up their natural flavor a bit more.
4. Plate the broccoli rabe and top with hazelnuts and feta.

You can drizzle this side with a bit of light honey or reduced balsamic vinegar in the end!

This dish is best cooked right before you will serve it. Don't make enough for leftovers as the broccoli rabe will become soggy.

Eat your greens!!


Shishito Peppers With Corn, Feta, Crema & Bourbon Smoked Paprika

This Shishito Peppers With Corn, Feta, Crema & Bourbon Smoked Paprika was inspired by a recipe Washington's Green Grocer posted on their instagram and insta story. 

I changed a few ingredients and absolutely loved it! If you love Mexican corn, you need to make this dish while the corn is fresh and sweet.

Shishito Peppers With Corn, Feta, Crema & Bourbon Smoked Paprika

olive oil
shishito peppers
fresh corn kernels
feta, crumbled
bourbon smoked paprika
Mexican crema (or use a combination of Greek yogurt thinned out with a bit of lime juice)
chiffonade of basil (feel free to use cilantro)

1. Heat two skillets. Add olive oil. In one skillet add corn kernels and saute until golden. In another skillet, preferably cast iron, blacken shishito peppers.
2. Season corn and shishito peppers with salt and add to a plate.
3. Top with feta, bourbon smoked paprika, a drizzle of Mexican crema, and basil.

The photo looks messy, but I hope you will still try out this combination of flavors. 


Quick & Easy Entertainment: Piquillo & Artichoke Bruschetta

Looking for a quick and easy entertainment idea? Bruschetta fits the bill perfectly.

My friend Allison came over this past Monday for a night of The Bachelorette, and I thought it'd be fun to make bruschetta to go with vinho verde, hummus, brie, and other chips and dips.

You start with toasted sliced bread, add a topping, and dig in.

I usually think of bruschetta topping made with tomatoes, but this time around I picked up a jar of piquillo & artichoke bruschetta from World Market. {Fun fact: I used to work at World Market ages ago part time, and still love shopping there.}

Of course you can easily make this topping yourself by combining chopped piquillo peppers (or roasted red peppers) with chopped marinated artichoke hearts and a bit of olive oil.

Quick & Easy Entertainment Piquillo & Artichoke Bruschetta

baguette, sliced diagonally into 1/4" slices
olive oil
garlic clove, sliced lengthwise
piquillo & artichoke bruschetta topping
fresh basil, sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Brush each side of sliced baguette with olive oil and bake for 3-6 minutes on each side, depending on how golden brown you want your bread.
3. Rub halved garlic clove onto each slice of toast.
4. Top each slice with piquillo & artichoke bruschetta and basil.

Easy summer entertainment!!


Quick & Easy Vegetarian Summer Meal

Quick & Easy Vegetarian Summer Meal is something you can have for lunch or dinner any day of the week, but especially for Meatless Monday. This combination of ingredients requires almost no cooking.

Half of the items on the plate come from Washington's Green Grocer; the other half come from Trader Joe's. Neither is a paid contributor ;) I love both.

Last night I needed a quick meal with some color and flavor as a counterpart to the gloomy rainy weekend.

1) Corn: husk the corn and wrap it in aluminum foil and then grill it directly on the gas flame turning occasionally.

2) Feta

3) Tomatoes: sliced and sprinkled with kosher salt

4) Eggplant spread: topped with chopped red onions. This Trader Joe's spread is beyond addicting and can be eaten as a side or spread on toast or used in sandwiches or as a dip.

5) Shishito peppers: blistered in a cast iron with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkled with kosher salt and a bit of feta.

Filling. Colorful. Healthy.


Cajun Smoked Salmon Salad Recipe

Love smoked salmon? Looking for something more fun than plain cream cheese to schmear on your bagel? Then you need to try my Cajun Smoked Salmon Salad Recipe.

You want to buy Cajun Flavored Smoked Salmon that comes in one piece instead of sliced smoke salmon. If you can't find Cajun Flavored Smoked Salmon, get regular smoked salmon that comes in a large unsliced piece and add some of this spice mix

Cajun Smoked Salmon Salad Recipe
Cajun Flavor Smoked Salmon, flaked
zest of a lemon
finely chopped Vidalia onion
chopped cilantro
lemon juice to taste
enough mayonnaise to combine

I know...there are no amounts listed. I wasn't planning on blogging about this, but my friend Laura said I should. Trust your gut and add as much or as little of each ingredient as you wish. Combine them all in a bowl.

This salad is incredibly flavorful and yet light. I had it with an everything bagel, tomatoes and cucumbers. 


Vegan Thai Corn, Potato & Zucchini Soup

Are you swimming in the sea of summer corn and zucchini? If the answer is yes, then this Vegan Thai Corn, Potato & Zucchini Soup is perfect for you.

I saw a recipe for Thai-Style Corn Chowder on TheKitchn and adapted it slightly to fit what I had on hand.

First, I used only 2 red skinned potatoes, and added 2 large zucchini. I also used vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Finally, I pureed part of the soup to improve the texture.

The one recommendation I'm still figuring out is whether to mince the lemon grass*** or simply bruise it using the back of the knife because I did not like the texture of the minced lemongrass in the soup. You decide!

Vegan Thai Corn, Potato & Zucchini Soup
Adapted from TheKitchn
Serves 4-6
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 red skinned potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 Thai chili pepper, finely chopped {do NOT touch your eyes after}
1 3" piece of lemongrass, bruised with the back of the knife to release the flavor
salt to taste
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups fresh corn {if you are making this soup in the winter, use defrosted corn}
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 13.5 to 15 ounce can coconut milk
chopped cilantro
lime wedges

1. Heat a heavy bottomed soup pot on the stove. Add olive oil and allow it to heat.
2. Add chopped onions and allow to cook until translucent.
3. Add potatoes, chili pepper and lemongrass and saute for 5 minutes.
4. Season with salt. 
5. Add just enough broth to cover the vegetables, bring to a simmer and cook 5 to 8 minutes, covered, until potatoes are tender.
6. Add corn and zucchini and the rest of the broth. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking for a few more minutes.
7. Fish out the lemongrass and discard.
8. Off the heat, add coconut milk.
9. Carefully ladle a few cups of the soup into a blender. Blend until smooth and add back into the soup pot.
10. Serve the soup garnished with cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.

*** Rereading the recipe, I noticed the lemongrass was finely grated, not minced. Oy. Clearly I did not pay enough attention.


Meatless Monday: Summer Burrata Salad With Tomatoes, Peaches & Cherries

Over the weekend I made a Summer Burrata Salad With Tomatoes, Peaches & Cherries, and it was divine!

Burrata is somewhat costly, but is a great splurge from time to time. Usually served with fresh tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil and salt, the salad is a great start to a meal or a light meal in itself. I added a few extra ingredients to make a stunning (if I say so myself) plated salad.

Summer Burrata Salad With Tomatoes, Peaches & Cherries
1 ball burrata
tomatoes (I used kumato, cherry, and golden varieties), sliced or/and quartered
peaches, sliced
Rainier cherries, pitted and halved
pickled corn
chili olive oil

1. Tear the burrata ball. Arrange tomatoes, peaches, cherries, and pickled corn in a pleasing pattern.
2. Top with basil.
3. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt.

Here's to more gorgeous summer salads!!


Healthy Eating: Zucchini, Tomato & Cod Recipe

This Zucchini, Tomato & Cod Recipe is super quick, satisfying, healthy, and reheats well. I wasn't planning on blogging about it, but after tasting my creation, I wanted to share it with you.

If you have had one too many burgers or hot dogs yesterday at the 4th of July get together, or are drowning in the number of zucchini from your garden, or don't eat meat on Fridays, or just want something that feels light, make this dish!

Zucchini, Tomato & Cod Recipe
Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/4" slices
3 summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/4" slices
1/2 large Vidalia onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 14.5 ounce cans of diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen: not sponsored. I really like them and order them by the case on Amazon.)
1-2 pinches red pepper flakes
4 cod filets (or use halibut or tilapia or even shrimp)
fresh basil

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add zucchini, summer squash, onions, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and saute until the vegetables are tender.
2. Add diced tomatoes and their juices and red pepper flakes and bring to a low simmer.
3. Submerge cod in the zucchini/summer squash/tomato stew and simmer, covered, until the fish is cooked through. This may take 5-15 minutes depending on the size of the fish: check the fish with a fork to make sure it is cooked through.
4. Serve topped with fresh basil.

1. I used defrosted cod. It worked really well.
2. You can use sliced peppers into the stew in step #1.
3. Olives or capers would be a great addition to this dish.