Thursday, June 27, 2013

Eat: Peach Upside Down Cake

This Peach Upside Down Cake is one of the two desserts I made for Father's Day. My family tends to prefer chocolate confections, so I really did not expect this to go over well. That's also why I made a second cake with a homemade chocolate sauce (stay tuned for that one!). Much to my pleasant surprise, everyone devoured this beautiful peach cake with barely a leftover piece to spare!

Obviously, this cake is gorgeous and presents wonderfullythat's actually what first motivated me to make it. What you can't appreciate unless you try it is the unique texture. When I poured the batter into the pan, it was almost completely full. Worried it would surely spill over while baking, I repeatedly checked the oven. Fortunately, these efforts weren't necessary as there was zero overflow. Instead, the batter is meant to rise only a little, making the cake quite dense and moist. Also, the cake itself is not particularly sweet since it's topped with (amply sweet!) carmelized sugar and peaches. All in all, a very unusual but fantastic dessert.

Peach Upside Down Cake
Serves 8-10

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons butter (divided)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2-3 large peaches, sliced (around 1/2 - 3/4 inch thick)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, aluminum-free
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to  350°F.

In a small sauce pan, combine 3 tablespoons of the butter and all of the brown sugar. Heat on medium-high until the sugar is melted, stirring continually. When it starts to bubble, remove the pan from heat and pour the carmelized sugar into a greased 8" or 9" round baking pan. Use a spatula to spread the caramelize sugar around the pan (essentially lining the bottom of the pan with sugar).

Arrange the peach slices in the pan, creating a visually appealing pattern (remember this will be the top of the cake).

In a large bowl, Beat the remaining stick butter and sugar together until they are combined and smooth. Add the vanilla, then beat in one egg at a time.

In a separate bowl, mix together the the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the batter. Now add the milk, then the remainder of the dry ingredients. Don't overmix the batter. Pour the batter over the peaches in the pan, spreading it around to fill in the spaces between the fruit.

Bake 45-50 minutes or until the edges of the cake pull from the sides and the center is not gooey. Take out of the oven and let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Flip the cake onto a serving platter. If able, serve warm.

Note: When flipping the cake out of the pan, wear your oven mitts! There may be small streams of caramelized sugar that can burn your hands.  

recipe source: use real butter

Monday, June 24, 2013

Birthday Weekend Whirlwind!

When it rains, it pours!

In this case, though, the rain is good. The rain happens to be fun celebrations for Matthew's birthday. Last Friday marked his 28th year and boy oh boy did we squeeze all the festive juice out of the occasion! It was a crazy few days but I managed enjoy each moment and not get stressed over just how many moments we were zipping to and from (something I've been known to do in the past).

Friday Morning
We kicked off Friday morning with our traditional Birthday Breakfast more on that in a later post!

Friday Night
After work, we finished out the day at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. They just so happened to be hosting a Members' Night (and yes, we are members) with live music. Lord knows we love a good picnic, so we took in the scenery and big band music while chomping on some curried chicken salad, cheese, and wine!

Saturday Morning
Bright and early Saturday morning, we  went out to breakfast thanks to an it's-your-birthday-have-breakfast-on-us coupon that was set to expire. We simply could not turn down a perfectly good buy-one-get-one breakfast opportunity; it was a nice way to start the day.

Frittata with spinach, roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, and sausage. Delicious!
So composed!
Saturday Afternoon
After breakfast we got preparations underway for a potluck barbecue with our friends. It was such a wonderful time that I wish we could host a big picnic every Saturday! We had some very strange weather (ranging from hot sunshine and humidity to dark clouds and rumbling thunder) but our friends are so laid back that not even the threat of rain could phase them!

Later this week, I'm excited to share some easy tips for planning an inexpensive party. As much as I love party-planning, I also love saving money!

The wind kept assisting Matt in blowing out the candles.
Saturday Night
So did we rest after this gathering? Of course not! Matt's sister (and her husband/children) happened to be in town this weekend, so we cleaned up everything and swiftly headed out to West County for a family dinner of Dewey's Pizza. I highly recommend their Socrates' Revenge. It ended up being a relaxing evening of chatting, grazing the kitchen, and watching the kids play monopoly. Man, are they crazy about that game! Couldn't get enough of it! Technically, the adults were "playing" with them, but we just rolled the dice passively while they ran the board. What can I say? It had been a long day.

This reads " If you want to play Monopoly, find Lucas!"
By late Saturday night, the past few days of busy-ness (coupled with multiple nights of poor sleep) had caught up with me. So as we were getting into bed, I announced that the odds of me getting up early the next morning for church were minuscule. I woke up on Sunday to Matthew making me breakfast as a sweet thank-you for my recent efforts. The rest of the morning was the usual practicalities and chores, then off I went spend the remainder of the day working an extra shift at the library. And yes, I regretted taking that shift!

So here we are on Monday morning, back at work and back to normalbut wait, there's more! Tonight we are driving out to my parents' house for our final birthday fête with my family.

The best part about all of this is Matthew. The entire weekend he wore a smile, sometimes small and subtle but often a full-out grin. Always being thoughtful, appreciative, and complimentary of everyone's attention and effort. It is so easy to celebrate such a great guy!

The end.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Eat: Father's Day Cilantro Lime Chicken

Yesterday, we hosted a casual Father's Day lunch at my house. Everyone pitched in, so we enjoyed a quite a large spread of Mexican-style fare. We are a clan of varied tastes, so I opted for two different entrees one for the picky eaters and another for the more adventurous. I also made not one but two cakes! Both desserts were big hits that I'm excited to share in upcoming posts. The day was filled with the usual hectic energy of bigger family gatherings. Fortunately, the weather was nice so we were able to burn some calories outside. My favorite part of the day was the entire group walking together to a nearby park where we played around until dessert time. Matt and I go there at least once a week during the warmer seasons, so we were glad to share it with the family.


Myself, my dad, and my sister!

For the traditional half of the crowd, we had regular ground beef tacos with homemade seasoning. I highly recommend making your own taco seasoning. Not only do you avoid the artificial and processed "extras" found in many of the store-bought mixes but you also get to experiment to find just the right seasoning blend for your family's preferences. You can find countless examples online. The other dish I made is one of my absolute favorite slow cooker recipes: Cilantro Lime Chicken with Black Beans and Corn. I have made this more often than any other dinner recipe in my arsenal. I originally got it from Mama & Baby Love, which offers tons of other healthy dishes worth trying. Aside from being flavorful, it is a simple recipe with quick and easy preparation. I also love that it has black beans and corn in it, adding a bit more substance to the dish.

Cilantro Lime Chicken with Black Beans and Corn
Serve 6

1.5 lbs chicken breasts
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup fresh cilantro OR several hearty dashes of dried
1 (15oz) can of corn, drained
2 tablespoons of garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 can of black beans, rinsed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Salt/Pepper, to taste

Combine ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on LOW 8 hours or HIGH 4 hours. Prior to serving, remove the chicken, shred it, then stir it back into the slow cooker blend. Add some additional cumin, salt, pepper, and lime juice to taste.


I hope you all had a great Father's Day!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Make: Skinny Refashion

First, a brief history. Second, a brief tutorial.

A Brief History
If you thought skinny pants were a product of the 20th century, you would be mistaken. Actually, slim-fit pants date back to the late 18th century. Not only that, they were a political statement. Radical left-wingers of the French lower class wore full-length pants tailored tightly from waist to ankle, all in response to the knee-length breeches popular among the upper class. Over the decades, the style's association has changed as often as the name, including drainpipes, stovepipes, cigarette pants, and pencil pants. Skinnies have been linked to everything from classic & subdued fashion (see Audrey Hepburn and Sandra Dee) to heavy metal and pop/rock music (see Poison and Freddie Mercury). The most recent (and current) resurgence was in response to the oversized and baggy clothing prevalent in the 1990s.

So there you go. I bet you were not expecting a history lesson today, were you?!?

A Brief Tutorial
For a while I'd been wanting to expand my skinny pant wardrobe beyond denim. Then a few weeks ago I was digging through some soon-to-be-donated clothes and noticed a pair of black bell bottoms. Inspiration struck and I was thrilled! Especially because they fit really well from the knees up, meaning the undertaking would be simple and straightforward.

If you want to skinny-fy a pair of pants, you have two options.

Option 1: Pinch and Pin
Turn your pants inside out and try them on in front of a mirror. Working your way down from hip to ankles, pin along the inside and outside of your leg, making the pant leg as tight as you prefer. After doing this on both sides, very carefully take off the pants. You can also mark along the pins for extra guidance.

Option 2: Template
Turn your pants inside out and lay them flat. Use a pair of (already-fitting) skinny pants as a template and lay them on top of your non-skinny pants. Be sure to line up the crotches (strange sentence to type, btw!) and mark where your new seams will be. Pin along those lines.

TIP: If you want to keep the "professional" seam on the outside of your pants, be sure to gather the fabric on the inside of your pant legs only!

Regardless of which option you choose, now you will sew straight seams along your markings/pins. Cut away the excess fabric, turn them right side out, and try them on. If you are unhappy with the first, repeat all of the above steps to alter as needed.

I chose the pinch and pin method and it worked great. I was pleasantly surprised by how quick and easy this project was. It makes me want to go through my closet and find more pants to transform!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Eat: Pumpkin Spice Beignets

Oddly enough, one of my favorite things about travel is relishing the comfort that comes when I get home. I love our house and have enjoyed getting back into the swing of things. I'm not suggesting that I like heading back to work or tackling our mountain of laundry, but I gladly welcome the peace I feel standing in my kitchen, listening to NPR while chopping some fresh produce. I'd like to note that produce was given to us by my wonderfully thoughtful mother-in-law who stocked the fridge upon our return!

At the top of my list-of-reasons-I'm-happy-to-be-home ? Breakfast, of course! This weekend was a busy one, but not so busy that we couldn't enjoy a big breakfast together. Matt handled the coffee and scrambled eggs – both excellent and far better than when I make either. Meanwhile, I tried a new (modified by me) recipe for Pumpkin Spice Beignets. This was originally a recipe for baked donuts in the traditional shape, which would have been great except I don't have a donut pan. Matthew very smartly suggested we call them beignets, the French version of donuts. This perfectly tied together our recent visit to Montreal (where we actually ate some beignets) and National Donut Day.

The final verdict? Delicious, especially when served warm while the butter glaze is fresh. They are surprisingly dense but also very moist. As expected, pumpkin is most prominent flavor but the vanilla is quite strong too. I would not skip the cinnamon-sugar coating  – not because these aren't tasty when plain, rather it makes them more like true beignets.

Pumpkin Spice Beignets
Yields 12

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoons ground cloves
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup milk

For the Glaze
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven 350° F. In a bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and all of the spices.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients (excluding the butter/sugar/cinnamon for glazing). Gradually add the dry ingredients into the blend. Stir until everything is combined, taking care not to over mix.

Fill each greased cup with the batter. Bake for 20 minutes or until they spring back when gently pressed. Cool for a few minutes in the pan, then remove and place on wire rack. 

While the beignets are cooling, set up your "glazing station". Get two small bowls: one for the melted butter and another for the blended sugar and cinnamon. While the beignets are warm, dip in the melted butter then roll in the sugar/cinnamon blend. If possible, serve warm.


Thursday, June 06, 2013

Go: Eat Out In Canada

Hello there!

I am sorry that my posting has been incredibly inconsistent the last couple of months. While I love gathering and executing recipes and crafts, I have found myself lately lacking the energy and/or motivation to write about them. I've also been assessing my overall vision for Making a Living. This mixed with a busy season full of major home projects and travel has resulted in very few blog posts. If you are a regular reader of mine, I apologize. I promise to make it up to you with a bunch of great posts I have coming along!

As I said, we've done a bit of traveling over the past few months including a very recent trip to Montreal and Toronto. It was us versus the rain most days, but overall it was a great vacation! A friend of mine asked what my favorite part of our trip was. I thought about it for a few seconds and confidently replied: The Food. Oh man! Montreal and Toronto both offered such a wide variety of restaurants, bakeries, and cafés! We always strive to eat well on vacation, but neither Matt nor I remember enjoying our meals nearly as much on previous trips.

Since food is one of the cornerstones of Making a Living, I think it would be appropriate to share some of our culinary exploits while across the border. I've included links below and highly recommend all of these restaurants. I may also try my hand at recreating some of these dishes. Enjoy!


Le Givres
This was our very first night in Montreal and decided to start the vacation with a bang! By "bang", I mean a giant dessert for dinner. We ordered the "Dégustation pour Deux" which translates into Tasting for Two. Not only was this delicious, it felt positively decadent; I only wish would could have savored it more slowly--but ice cream does melt rather quickly.

It featured a mini "campfire" of pastry sticks, brownie bites topped with caramelized brown sugar, ice cream, and whipped cream; A big roasted homemade marshmallow; Organic bananas with chocolate ice cream & a brownie; Coffee ice cream with whipped cream and waffle cone; Poached pears with vanilla ice cream, spice cake, and caramelized ginger; Mini eclairs with pistachio ice cream and praline ice cream. I suggested we eat this for dinner every night in Montreal!


La Crêperie du Marché
We ended our second day by roaming the Jean Talon Market, a large covered market selling everything you can think of, from meat and fish to honey and lavender. It was tough to decide from which booth we would get dinner, but La Crêperie du Marché won. I was surprised by how different the crepes looked from what we would usually find back home, their dark brown crispy exterior and square shape. Matthew went the semi-sweet route with melted apples, torchon ham, swiss cheese, and maple syrup. I opted for straight-up savory with asparagus, béchamel sauce, swiss cheese, torchon ham. A choir happened to set up shop next to our table, so we enjoyed some lovely choral music while eating!


This Venezuelan restaurant is a top contender for our favorite. It is a small space with brightly colored walls, warm atmosphere, and low lighting--hence the dark photo above. Arepas are flatbread sandwiches with a texture similar to english muffins. I decided to be extra adventurous and tried the smoked shark with plantains. I would compare the flavor to lobster (lightly sweet but still fishy). Matthew went with the spicy pulled pork and a sauce hot enough to make his eyes water. We also shared cassavas chips with a delicious avocado sauce. Cassava is a starchy tuberous root of a tropical tree--and tasty when fried!


After a long day of walking and burning calories, we treated ourselves to some fancy french pastries. It took a long time to actually find this bakery, but it was well worth the search! Matthew ordered crème brûlée and I got the pain au chocolat aux amandes (or chocolate pastry with almonds).This is one dish I will definitely try to make. Somehow I doubt it would be as good!


The prologue to our dining experience at Thai to Go was less than pleasant. Lots of rain. Lots of walking in the rain. Lots of shoes filled with rain. Once we stepped into the restaurant, though, we were given some of the best service we've ever seen and delicious thai cuisine! I had the Mango Tofu Stirfry while Matt enjoyed the Pineapple Shrimp Curry. The restaurant offered us free drinks (we opted for cranberry juice) and a free dessert of green tea and pastries that flaked apart beautifully when bitten. I honestly think they would have kept serving us free pastries indefinitely had we stuck around long enough!


Among the many places to explore in Toronto is the historic Distillery District. What began as the Gooderham and Worts Distillery has become a large center of independent shops and restaurants, mantaining its old-time charm. It was great to see the city utilize what would otherwise be an abandoned part of town. One particular shop that kept our interest (we visited it three times!) was SOMA Chocolate where we tried the Spicy Mayan Chocolate. It tastes like it sounds: hot and spicy with a rich, deep chocolate flavor. Yum! I liked it enough to buy a packet for my parents to try.


Bibim Q
Boy, oh boy! The amount of food that came with these meals was overwhelming. I can tell you what we ordered (the Bulgogi and the Bibimbap Soya) but I'm not sure will mean very much to you. Instead, I list everything we got between the two of us: fried egg, tofu, rib eye steak, rice, coleslaw, clear noodles, salad, tons of vegetables, and something reminiscent of cold mashed potatoes. I wasn't sold on the cold mashed potatoes but everything else was fantastic! We enjoyed this meal en plein air at Queen's Park. We even used chopsticks.


This market was very similar to Jean Talon of Montreal, so I loved it! A few people told us that we should try the "butter tarts" which are generally regarded as a speciality of Toronto. So while searching for souvenirs and strawberries, we bought a few tarts. They reminded me of the mini pecan tarts I've made in the past, except much larger and much sweeter. I felt like I was drinking maple syrup from a pastry cup! My sweet tooth was thoroughly satiated for a long while!


Capitano Burgers
Toronto must have a major thing for burgers. Everywhere I looked, I saw a different restaurant for "gourmet burgers". So near the end of our trip we gave in and gave them a try. I must say, we were not disappointed! Matt and I each declared that they were the best burgers we'd ever had. Seriously. My burger featured the restaurant's namesake "Capitano Sauce" which I can best describe as a creamy sweet mustard. Matt (as usual!) went for the spicy option--I guess I must really be depriving him of hot spices at home.


Behold, the last meal of our vacation! We tried to eat at Merryberry for our first night in Toronto, only to discover (after a rainy walk) that they close early on Tuesdays! I was bitter for a few days but Matt convinced me we should give it another chance. I am so glad that we did! The space could not have been cuter and everything on the menu was unique and appetizing. Matt wasn't particularly hungry, so he ordered a bowl of Mango Gazpacho. I'm telling you, this was the trip of the mango! We ordered it whenever we could! My sandwich also featured the fruit, along with smoked salmon, pesto, goat cheese, roasted peppers, and sprouts. Such a strange combination of ingredients but they came together beautifully! This one is also my list of meals to copycat at home.


So there you have it! Of course, there are more meals and stories worth sharing but this post is already quite lengthy. All of these meals reinforced how important it is to step outside of your comfort zone with food and try new things--even if they have strange ingredients like shark! I'm going to incorporate some of these experiences into my own cooking regime. Stayed tuned for those attempts!