Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fresh apricot upside-down cake

Pineapple upside-down cake always evokes memories of my childhood. My mom made a killer pineapple upside-down cake. She'd put pecans in the center of each pineapple ring, way better than a maraschino cherry, in my opinion. That wasn't the best part of the cake, however. Unlike most cakes, the outer edge of a pineapple upside down cake is the best part of the cake. The brown sugar and butter form a thick caramely edge that makes getting to the end of your piece of cake kind of like getting a prize at the finish line. Back then, I didn't care much about the cake part of the pineapple upside-down cake, it was all about the caramel for me. I remember strategically planning my piece of cake to include at least one pecan, and the edge with the most caramel. This was not always an easy feat when competing with four other sisters with the exact same agenda. As mom would cut the cake, we'd all watch for that perfect slice and try to beat each other in the, "I want that piece, Mom!"

I got these gorgeous apricots this week and came across a recipe for apricot upside-down cake. I thought that that caramel topping  and the lightly almond flavor of the cake would be great with apricots. The perfect combo of tart and sweet with that wonderful caramel edge... I know, sounds awesome, right?!? Oh, and now that I'm cutting the cake, there are no worries about not getting that perfect slice.

Fresh Apricot Upside-down Cake

(printable recipe)

Source: Gourmet July 2003
For topping
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
10 or 11 small (2- to 2 1/4-inch) fresh apricots (about 1 1/4 lb), halved lengthwise and pitted

For cake
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs at room temperature 
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Make topping:
Heat butter in a 10-inch well-seasoned cast-iron or heavy nonstick skillet (at least 2 inches deep) over moderate heat until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low and sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter, then cook, undisturbed, 3 minutes (not all of sugar will be melted). Remove skillet from heat and arrange apricot halves, cut sides down, close together on top of brown sugar.
Make cake:
Sift together flour, baking powder and soda, and salt into a small bowl.
Beat together butter, sugar, and extracts in a large bowl with a mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.  Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then beat until mixture is creamy and doubled in volume, 2 to 3 minutes.
Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and beat just until combined.
Gently spoon batter over apricots and spread evenly.
Bake cake in middle of oven until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.
Wearing oven mitts, immediately invert a large plate over skillet and, keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert cake onto plate.Take care doing this, the skillet will be very hot! Carefully lift skillet off cake and, if necessary, replace any fruit that is stuck to bottom of skillet. Cool to warm or room temperature. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Not your average fruit dip

I have to say I have never been a fan of fruit dips. You know, that seemingly obligatory, tooth-achingly sweet goop that shows up on fruit trays, salad bars, and at catered events. I'd come to the conclusion that the only reason that the only reason for its existence, was to mask bad, under ripe fruit. To somehow fool us into eating that rock hard cantaloupe or barely pink strawberry . Or perhaps like kids, we needed to be enticed into eating our fruit. Anyway, I've never seem a need for dip with fruit, but having been a caterer, fruit dip is regular request from clients, to be included with the mandatory fruit and veggie tray. I've made several different fruit dips over the years but never had one that appealed to me in the least. I was recently catered an event and needed that requested dip. So I decided to look for something new. This particular recipe caught my eye because it included coffee liqueur. It seemed like such an odd combination of ingredients that I just had to give it a try. The recipe said that the coffee liqueur was optional, so I added a couple of tablespoons to see if I'd like it.  Oh my! It's amazing. It tasted so good I added the rest of the 1/3 cup.  This recipe also called for cool whip, a product I never use, but I did this time. I plan to make it next time with sweetened whipped cream, and see how that works. I'm just glad I found a fruit dip that actually tastes good!!

Brown Sugar Fruit Dip

Source: (Sami Cameron, Corpus Christi, Texas, Southern Living, JULY 2007)
Yield: 3 1/2 cups

Ingredients: (printable recipe)

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup coffee liqueur
1 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed
assorted fruits


Beat brown sugar and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add sour cream, vanilla, and coffee liqueur, beating until smooth. Fold in whipped topping. Cover and chill 4 hours. Sprinkle top of the dip with brown sugar garnish, if desired. Serve with fruit. Strawberries, pineapple, and grapes are really good with this dip.

This dip is not too sweet, with just the right amount of tang that it really compliments the fruit, and doesn't just mask it with sugar. The next time you have a party, whip up this dip to go with that fruit tray. You just might be a convert too!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Seafood, sunsets, and saving our coast

Sorry I  know not much has gone on here at Half Baked for a week or so. Hubs and I have been on vacation. We headed down to the beach for a week of sun and seafood. It was sublime! We love to go to a part of the Florida coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, know as "the forgotten coast". Situated between Mexico Beach  and Carrabella, it's a beautiful part of the coast, with pristine beaches and few people. The open beaches and lack of people allow you to experience the wildlife that you'd never see along the more crowded coastal areas. On one of our previous trips, we went there in early fall and got to witness newly hatched sea turtles being released into the ocean. That was really amazing. We've seen many dolphins, and even got an up close look at a bald eagle as it swooped down and grabbed a fish that had washed up on the shore. That's we love about going this part of the Gulf of Mexico. That and if you've never had fresh wild caught Gulf shrimp or oysters from Apalachicola, you've missed out on some of the world's finest seafood! It's a unique and beautiful part of the Florida coast and the beaches are dog friendly, so we can take the whole fam. It's truly a place to get away from everything, I didn't even have cell phone coverage where we were staying. Now that's a get away!

 Hubs was the one that first wanted to come to this area for vacation. He had flown over it many times and said it looked beautiful. When he found out that he could fish from the beach and we could bring the dog,  he was sold! Pompano is one of the fish that can be caught from the shoreline. They usually run in the spring and fall and like the calm water in this area. Pompano is a delicious white fish. It has a delicate buttery flavor that makes it one of the best fish I've ever eaten. The average size of pompano is only about 2 lbs. Because of it's size and great flavor, pompano usually commands the highest price of any fish caught in America. Did I mention they can be caught from the shore??!!?? Hub's mission each time we go; catch at least 2 pompano before we leave and grill them for dinner. He did catch two this trip and they were fabulous.

We leave them whole and prepare them very simply:
After the fish have been cleaned. You could fillet them but it's really not necessary, once cooked the flesh just comes away from the bones. 
Score the skin on both sides (btw pompano have no scales!)
Rub the each sides with about a tablespoon of butter
Salt and pepper
Then place on a hot grill. Charcoal give the fish a really great flavor, but a gas grill works just as well. Grill the fish 8 -12 minutes per side depending on the size of you fish. Add a squeeze of lime and that's it!

 Maisy likes to help with the fishing!

Unfortunately, the BP explosion and oil spill that happened just a few days before our vacation, threatens to destroy this beautiful area. Tourism, fishing, shrimping, and oysters are the main industry in this area. The oil spill could ruin the beaches and kill the much of the wildlife. The fishing industry could be permanently impacted by this catastrophe. All of the local people we talked to are worried that their livelihoods may soon be destroyed. I'm sure all the folks that live along the Gulf of Mexico and make their living from it, feel the same way. I don't know the answer to this problem or how it can be fixed.  I hope that our government and BP will do whatever it takes to clean up this mess and save the coastal areas of the Gulf from permanent devastation and preserve it for future generations.