September 25, 2013

Recipe: Peach Polenta Upside-Down Cake

As the weather in Seattle begins to cool and the summer fruit harvest comes to a close, I've been savoring the final weeks of peaches, plums, and nectarines at the Farmers' Markets. Stone fruits are some of my favorite ingredients to bake with, so when I found perfectly ripe peaches at last Saturday's market, I grabbed a bunch with one of my favorite sweet recipes in mind - Peach Polenta Upside-Down Cake.

Traditional Pineapple Upside-Down Cake was my Grandpa's birthday cake of choice - a vintage classic of moist yellow cake with a caramelized topping of pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. It's the 1950's in cake form. Despite his commitment to the original recipe, I think my Grandpa would be fond of this modern variation as well. Sliced peaches are briefly cooked in a skillet alongside a bit of sugar and coconut oil, releasing their juices to create a peach-infused caramel. The skillet of caramel-y peaches is topped with a lightly-sweet cornmeal cake batter fragrant with vanilla and (because I can't help myself) more coconut oil. The skillet goes straight into the oven to bake the cake, and after a brief cooling, you invert the cake out of the pan to reveal all of that peach prettiness.

It's a cake just sweet and rich enough for dessert, but not so indulgent to be counted out as a sweet addition to breakfast or brunch. I often enjoy a slice alongside a cup of coffee or tea. It's an "anytime" cake. And really, who can't get behind a treat like that?

Peach Polenta Upside-Down Cake
Inspired by Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker, and Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Serves 8

This cake is cooked both on the stovetop and in the oven, so you'll need to use an oven-proof skillet. Cast iron is my preference, but any oven-safe skillet will do. I've made the cake in both a 10-inch and 12-inch skillet, and found the 10-inch to work best - the cake turns out a bit thinner than I prefer when baked in the 12-inch skillet (you can see this in the photos above). If you only have a 12-inch skillet, take note that the thinner cake will need a few minutes less in the oven.

For the Batter:
1 cup plain non-dairy milk
1 teaspoon cider or white wine vinegar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup medium-grind yellow cornmeal or polenta
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Caramelized Peach Topping:
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
3 medium peaches, peeled*, pit removed, and sliced into ¼-inch thick slices/wedges

*I peel the peaches with a paring knife, gently tugging the peel away from the flesh. I've had good success with this method (as seen here), but if it seems too tricky (or you just don't want to bother), you can leave the peaches unpeeled. I just happen to prefer the jammy quality of unpeeled peaches.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On your stovetop, bring a 10-inch oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, melt 2 tablespoons coconut oil, using a pastry brush to coat sides of skillet with oil. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons sugar evenly into the skillet. Without stirring the sugar, allow it to melt into the oil for a couple of minutes. Arrange the sliced peaches in the skillet,  forming a circle at the edge of the skillet and filling in the center until the surface of the skillet is covered (feel free to nosh on any leftover peach slices as the cake bakes). Cook the peaches for 8-10 minutes, or until the juices are bubbling and the peaches are softened. Immediately remove the skillet from heat and rest on a heat-proof surface to cool slightly.

In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, add the milk and vinegar, stir, and set aside to sour for a few minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until evenly combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the soured milk, coconut oil, applesauce, sugars, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the large bowl of dry ingredients and stir until a smooth batter forms.

Gently add spoonfuls of cake batter on top of the peaches in the skillet. When I say gently, I mean gently - the peaches are precariously placed on a slippery layer of hot caramel, which makes them prone to moving about. I start with a spoonful in the center, then add spoonfuls of batter around the edge of the skillet, filling in any blank spots a spoonful at a time until an even layer of batter is covering all of the peaches. Once all the batter is in the skillet, carefully transfer skillet to oven and bake cake for 28-32 minutes, or until the center tests clean. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes before inverting cake. 

To invert the cake, run a knife along the edge of the skillet, then place a large plate on top of the pan and quickly - but carefully - flip the skillet and the plate. Tap the bottom of the skillet to loosen the cake, then lift skillet away. If necessary, reposition peaches on top of the cake. It's best served slightly warm or at room temperature.

September 13, 2013

Recipe: Burrito Bowl with Black Beans & Fajita Vegetables

Let's not beat around the bush, here. These Burrito Bowls with Black Beans and Fajita Vegetables are my homemade version of Chipotle's Burrito Bowls, and they've been a standard in our meal rotation for a good two years. Are they fancy? Not even a little. Do they make a fantastic weeknight meal? Hell to the yes. One night of cooking - a Sunday, perhaps - will give you a filling, flavorful meal that can be quickly reheated for easy dinners (or lunches!) the rest of the week.

Here's the breakdown. On cooking night, you'll make a pot of rich, saucy black beans, cook up some fluffy rice, and saute peppers and onions in a savory cumin-and-lime-spiked glaze. I put the beans on first, since they take the longest, then make the rice and fajita vegetables towards the end of the beans' cooking time. If you're strapped for time, canned black beans will work too, but I highly recommend cooking a fresh batch from scratch - the improved flavor and texture are worth it.

Once the beans, rice, and veggies are done, you can portion out individual servings of the burrito bowls to stash in the refrigerator for the week. A few simple additions round out the meal - sweet corn kernels (frozen is totally fine), salsa, and shredded lettuce. I'm a fan of whipping up a quick Simple Guacamole to add a bit of richness, but cubes of avocado will do the trick, too. I use a two-pronged tupperware technique for assembling the individual servings, using a medium container for the ingredients that need to be reheated (rice, beans, fajita vegetables, and corn) and a small container for the cold ingredients (salsa, lettuce, and guacamole/avocado). When you're ready to enjoy a burrito bowl, simply grab the two containers from your fridge, reheat the warm ingredients and top with the cool ingredients. It's about as far from rocket science as you can get. And let's be honest, that level of ease is exactly what you need on a busy weeknight.

Burrito Bowl with Black Beans & Fajita Vegetables
serves 4

I like to prepare the rice, beans, and fajita vegetables on a Sunday evening so I can easily put together fast lunches and dinners throughout the work week. Cook your preferred type of rice as directed on the packaging. For the beans, you can either cook up a batch from dried black beans or use canned back beans.

4 cups cooked rice (I use a long grain white rice)
2 cups Saucy Black Beans (recipe below)
1 batch Fajita Vegetables (recipe below)
1 cup corn, cooked (frozen corn works great here)
1 cup salsa
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 batch Simple Guacamole or 1 large avocado, cubed (optional)

To assemble each Burrito Bowl: Combine 1 cup of rice, 1/2 cup beans, 1/4 of the fajita vegetables, 1/4 cup corn, 1/4 cup salsa, 1/2 cup shredded lettuce, and a big ol' scoop of guacamole (if desired). I like to mix everything up before I dig in, but eat yours however you'd like. There's no wrong way to eat a burrito bowl.

Saucy Black Beans
makes 2-3 cups cooked beans

Cooking beans is kind of a "by feel" process, but this is a breakdown of my standard procedure for turning out a pot of rich, saucy black beans perfect for most Central or South American fare. Cooking dried beans is ideal here, but I've included directions for using canned black beans in a pinch as well.

1 cup dried black beans, as fresh as you can find, rinsed
Cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon olive oil

Place 1 cup dried beans into a medium or large pot and add enough cold water to cover the beans by a good inch or so. Place the pot over medium-high heat and cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low to maintain a constant but gentle simmer. Simmer the beans, covered, for 30-40 minutes, then taste a bean to see how things are going. When the beans are soft enough to bite into (but still underdone),  add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and your desired seasonings - I like to use a 1/4 teaspoon each of cumin, chili powder, and onion powder, but feel free to mix it up.

Re-cover pot and continue to simmer beans for an additional 30-60 minutes, or until the beans are perfectly soft on the inside, but still maintain their shape with skins intact. Taste the beans every 10 minutes after you hit the hour mark - they can to go from "done" to "overdone" quickly. Note the cooking time for dried beans varies widely depending on the freshness of your beans - older beans will require significantly longer cooking time.

After the beans are done, you'll season the cooking water to create a tasty sauce for the black beans. If necessary, discard a ladle or two of the liquid - the bean-to-liquid ratio should be saucy, not soupy - then stir a tablespoon of olive oil into the beans. The olive oil will thicken the sauce and add a welcome richness to the beans. Taste the beans with a bit of the sauce and adjust seasoning as needed, then remove from heat.

What if you don’t have time to cook your own beans?

You can substitute canned black beans and use those instead. It won't be as great - sorry, it's true - but you can dress up canned black beans in just a few minutes on the stovetop. You'll need 2 cans of black beans. Pour the beans - sauce and all - from one can into a saucepan. Drain and rinse the second can of black beans, then add to the saucepan. Heat the beans over medium-low heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of cumin, chili powder, and onion powder. Depending on how salty your canned beans are, you may need to add some salt as well. If the beans are tasting "flat", add a pinch of sugar and/or a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten the flavors. Remove from heat once beans are heated through.

Fajita Vegetables
serves 4

2 sweet bell peppers, sliced into 1/4-inch strips
1 medium onion (yellow, white, or red will work), halved and thinly sliced (1/4-inch thick)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vegan Worcestershire sauce (I like Annie's)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, water, Worcestershire, cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder until combined, then set aside. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil, followed by the peppers and onions. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened a bit and are turning golden - you want them to develop some caramel-y color. Deglaze the pan with the lime juice mixture, tossing to coat the vegetables. Continue cooking for an additional minute or two, just long enough for the liquid to cook down into a glaze. Remove vegetables from heat.