Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer Peach Cake

Eat the pain away.
Before making the delectable circle of peachy goodness displayed above, the closest I'd come to making a cake from scratch was getting the portions wrong on a box of red velvet cake mix and--with a little bit of feverish, not-exactly-detail-oriented improvising--somehow producing something edible.

(Side salad: the combination of staring at that picture and being hungry incited me to get up from the couch and procure leftovers from the fridge. Still delicious!)

This was a little nerve-wracking. I'm not very adept with baking and flour and whatnot all the time. When I made Beef Wellington, I ended up practically painting on the dough, but that's neither here nor there (though that tear-inducing, ultimately-not-disastrous adventure would have made for a heart-stopping post...sponsored by the good folks at Hyphen-City.)

I went to the neighborhood market and picked up my ingredients, including peaches (obviously) and peach schnapps. Cooks Illustrated recommends macerating the peaches in sugar, schnapps, and a little bit of lemon juice to enhance the flavor.

First I preheated my oven to 425 deg, then I chopped up the peaches into roughly 1/2 inch wedges.

Then I set aside about 24 of those and cut the rest of the wedges into thirds. Everything got all macerated, and then I spread the peach chunks (not the elite 24) in a single layer on a pan wrapped in foil and misted with Pam.

Baked the chunks for 20-25 minutes. Here's where Lucie got antsy, because once the baking finished, I had to cool the chunks to room temperature on my makeshift wire rack for 30 minutes. And all I wanted to do honestly is get that cake in the oven so I could eat it in time for work.

Whenever you feel is a good time for you personally, as a human being undertaking this recipe, to start making the batter, you go ahead and do that. But probably don't wait too long. Use your judgment.

I whisked together flour, baking powder, and salt. Then I peeled the label off my new cake pan and Pammed it. Then I remembered I had to melt the butter and cool it completely, so I'm glad I started in on the batter before the peaches were even out of the oven.

(Once you do pull the peaches out, reduce the oven temp to 350 and applaud yourself on being well on way your way to the world of good eating.)

In another bowl, I whisked together eggs, brown sugar, and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar until it was nice and smooth. To that I added sour cream, vanilla extract, and 1/4 tsp of the almond extract. As my peaches cooled, I happily combined the two batter bowls into one delicious batter. I strove heroically to save most of the batter for the cake and to stop being an overzealous "taste-tester."

Peach time! First I crushed up some panko and tossed the peach chunks. Next I poured half the batter into my pan and smoothed it over with a spatula, then added the recently-cooled peach chunks, pressing them down into a single layer. Poured in the rest of the batter. Then I took the reserved wedges and placed them in a circle atop the batter. Then I realized I had them facing the wrong way, so I jumped in for a quick amendment before adding the rest of the sugar, moistened with 1/8 tsp of almond extract, to the top of the cake.

Then with my eyes large and proud with hunger, I put the cake in the oven for about an hour.

After retrieving the cake from the oven, I was forced to watch it cool for two to three hours (I compressed the wait with a little freezer time, so I could enjoy a slice before work.)

And voila! Summer peach cake and a dwindling of my baking fear.

Summer Peach Cake (via Cooks Illustrated)

  • 2 1/2pounds peaches , pitted and cut into 1/2 inch-thick wedges
  • 5tablespoons peach schnapps
  • 4teaspoons lemon juice
  • 6tablespoons plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4teaspoon salt
  • 1/2cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 2large eggs
  • 8tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled
  • 1/4cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3cup panko bread crumbs , finely crushed

Turkey Marsala and Cheese Tortellini with Sage-Walnut Butter

The first real post!

So I made this yesterday and then came up with the idea to start this blog today. Partially because I was so psyched about how delicious everything turned out to be. It's never easy cooking a whole meal at once. I have to open up whole Word documents, paste all the recipes inside, and mutter to myself a whole bunch as I read the directions over and over again. You know it's serious when I've got a Word document going on.

Yesterday I had some hot waitressing money burning a hole in my pocket (at work I don't get real pockets. Just aprons and skorts. The skort is awful. It is the bane of my thighs' existence. Anyway!), so I thought, "Why don't I throw together a meal for myself and my roommates?" It's always a good feeling to share, although I have been known to make enchiladas for myself because I had time to kill, the recipe was taunting me, and no one else was around.

The meal ended up as such: Turkey Marsala, cheese tortellini with a sage-walnut butter, and summer peach cake for dessert (I'll save the cake for another post. This title is already so long.)

I started off by throwing two packages of cheese tortellini into the ol' pot of boiling salted water.

Here's where my little error comes in. If I could explain why this happened, I so would to help any readers out...but to be honest, I don't think you should worry. There's a certain category of mistakes I make that fall under "Only things I do." Like the time I accidentally drove on the levee and a bunch of cattle angrily stalked me, lowing and stomping all the while. Or when I thought I'd lost $97 and it ended up being in my pocket. These things just happen.

So this time: I put balsamic vinegar, honey and bay leaf in a small saucepan over medium heat. My boyfriend was already complaining about the overpowering smell--while I stoically dealt with it--when without coming close to overshooting the 4-5 min. time limit, I managed to burn the whole lot. Burnt balsamic syrup will overpower the heck out of you. We just decided to toss it, rather than waste time scrubbing the pan and starting over, and ultimately we just subbed balsamic vinaigrette. And it still tasted delicious. I have become very friendly with substitutes. Not in the way that a high school girl with loose morals and a sagging GPA does, but in the way a beginning-cook with a clumsy side and a tendency to misread recipes gets to know her various saviors.

That snafu aside: I melted 6 tablespoons of butter in a skillet, added a cup of walnuts and the sage leaves, and let the walnuts toast. Suuuuch a good smell. Much better than sizzling balsamic syrup, you have no idea. After three minutes, I added a cup of water from the boiling tortellini. Not easy to fetch when tortellini is boiling all about.

As the butter reduced by half, I strained the tortellini (reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water) then added it to the skillet. Toss the tortellini in the butter. Here's where you're supposed to add the cooking water as needed. I, of course, forgot I'd even reserved it. It just sat by my sink while I tossed the tortellini willy-nilly with a 6 oz. pkg of Parmesan.

Tortellini done!

Now I started the Turkey Marsala during this process. About the time the tortellini butter was reducing. I chopped up a small red onion and cooked it up in my large bottle of olive oil, which is sadly depleting. Though I actually don't mind, because the excitement of getting a new special bottle of olive oil will make up for the loss, I think.

Once the onion started to turn golden and the aroma was engulfing me (here is where I recommend actually burning the balsamic syrup like I did earlier, because the scent of sweet relief enhances anything, I believe. Just like things taste better when they're free or you cooked them yourself! It's science. I am a freelance scientist at times.), I added the bag of baby spinach. As the spinach was wilting, my boyfriend patted the turkey cutlets dry and seasoned them up for me. He often reminds me that I need to cook things all the way through, lest I poison people. I get impatient and become colorblind to meat-pinkness. This, among other reasons, is why I value him.

I slid the spinach and onions out onto my readied plates, then added the turkey cutlets. Once they'd been seared well, Andy flipped up the better-done-side and I placed a half-slice of proscuitto and a slice of Fontina atop each cutlet. Then we covered the skillet and let them finish for a minute.

The cutlets were nestled into spinach beds. Then I poured a little Marsala into the skillet, let it reduce while I scraped up those pesky brown bits you're always advised to scrape up, and then boom, boom, was Turkey Marsala and cheese tortellini with sage-walnut butter time. A merry, merry time for all.

The recipes:

Turkey Marsala (via Epicurious):

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
5 oz baby spinach
4 turkey cutlets
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 slices prosciutto (1 oz), halved crosswise
2 oz Italian Fontina, thinly sliced
1/2 c sweet Marsala wine

Tortellini with Sage-Walnut Butter (via Food Network)(they used ravioli):

  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 9-ounce packages refrigerated cheese ravioli
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup fresh sage leaves
  • 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Hello, good people! As a 22-year-old recent college graduate with an ill-used creative writing degree and a love for cooking, I thought a blog in which I summarize/illustrate my cooking experiences could be pretty amusing. I've got an addiction to social media (as well as reading cookbooks, crossword puzzles, inhaling the entire runs of TV programs in short spans of time, quality beer, and making puns), so I've been microblogging my culinary forays from the get-go.

I really only started cooking about a year and a half ago. My parents gave me a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook for Christmas, along with the heavy hint that I should learn something from it. Up until that point, my skill-set consisted of Heating Pockets and Easily Making Mac. I started with breakfast. I'm a big of fan of dishes involving eggs and cheese at any time of the day. Then I expanded into recipes I stumbled-upon online that looked doable. And after a few hot messes, I started creating things of which I was really proud which were also delicious. Y'all, cooking is way more of a blast than I ever thought it could be. Now I salivate walking down the cookware aisles of supermarkets. I rejoice in buying new spices. I read cookbooks in my free time. It's unreal.

I'm absolutely no expert. I'm still very messy. My boyfriend has to make sure I cook meat all the way through.  But I'm having a ton of fun, and I thought I could add to that by throwing in writing and chronicling and little asides and anecdotes. I'm involving my sisters too, who are both wonderfully witty and hilarious and much more talented than yrstruly in the kitchen. All in all, I hope to expand my personal record-keeping and share some of the dorky fun I've been having along the way.