Monday, July 7, 2014

Peach and Mozzarella Salad

In a few days, my sister will be coming to visit us from Boston. Whenever she comes our itinerary is more than likely to involve at least one food-related activity each day so it’s not a surprise that we’ve been discussing what we are going to eat when she visits for over a month now. A few weeks ago she sent me this text…

“Do you think peaches will be in season when I’m down there?? I want peaches. Not from California.”

If feels as though every summer it is our goal to scout out some local, fresh-from-the-farm peaches but, 9 times out of 10, they fall flat.

I have a scattered collection of very distant memories from childhood involving peaches. We used to get peaches from old Mr. Washington’s orchard and although I can barely remember what it looked like, or what Mr. Washington was like, I do remember those peaches. They were the kinds that are impossible to eat with any dignity. The kinds that leave a running steam of sticky juice all the way from the hand to the elbow. They were ripe to the point of creaminess with the smell of pure nectar and impossibly sweet. Perhaps my fogged recollections have left the peaches substantially more impressive in my mind than they may have been in reality yet, to this day, I do not recall a time I’ve ever had peaches as good as those.

With our track record, I have doubts that this year will become the year that we find spectacular peaches but perhaps, with a bit of luck, we’ll find some that will at least partially fill that void. Just last week I had some decent ones from the farmers market. They were clingstone peaches and a bit of a pain to slice and could have been a little sweeter but were certainly still nice to have around.

I turned to Nigel Slater’s Ripe for peach inspiration and, as I suspected the recipes are all simple, letting the peach really shine. I went with an easy salad of peaches, mozzarella and prosciutto with a sprinkling of greens and a creamy vinaigrette. It’s light and refreshing, great for those blistering hot days where you can only muster enough energy to pile a few things onto a plate and call it a day. It has that sweet and savory thing going on, all kind of offset by the spicy arugula. I know that the prosciutto and fruit combo is old news but when you’re dealing with something that can be so incredibly wonderful as a peach, the simple and the tried and true can be some of the best.

Peach and Mozzarella Salad
Serves 4
Adapted very slightly from Nigel Slater’s Ripe

4 ripe peaches
16 thin slices of prosciutto
2 mozzarella balls
4 handfuls of arugula

For The Dressing
1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
4 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. full fat greek yogurt
a dab of Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Place a handful of arugula on the center of each plate. Slice the peach into 8 pieces and scatter them overtop. Divide the mozzarella evenly over each salad, tearing it into bite-sized portions. Finally tear the prosciutto into pieces and arrange on the top of the salad. Top with a few basil leaves, if desired.

Make the dressing by whisking together the vinegar, oil, yogurt, and mustard. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle overtop the salad. Enjoy with chilled white wine.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mixed Berry Pavlova

At long last summer is finally here. I knew for sure when I left my car sitting in the sun for hours one day and when I opened the door I could actually see the waves of heat rolling out. I’m probably a bit demented for it but somehow I love it so much. I love the thick heavy air, lounging around on lazy Sundays with shorts and an old t-shirt, and living off of whichever fruits and vegetables happen to be in a state of overpopulation at the moment.  And if this summer is just as fleeting as it always seems to be, then I best start really taking advantage of it all.

So why not start will an excess of berries.

I may have gotten a little overzealous with my fruit purchases at the farmers market yesterday. What started as a couple pieces of fruit turned into a half dozen peaches plus a pint each of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. But I don’t regret it one bit; they’re as perfect as any summer fruit can be, impossibly juicy and sweet. I’ll probably just enjoy most of them on their own or with yogurt for breakfast but I did set aside some of the berries for a refreshing and delicate pavlova as a mid-day dessert.

It sounds fancy, but in truth it’s a pretty humble, near effortless dish that is exactly what dessert should be like on the hottest of days. You whip up a batch of meringue, dollop it onto a baking sheet into something slightly resembling a bowl shape, and bake them off. You top the finished meringues with some whipped cream, an assortment of honey-drenched berries, and a bit of mint, and that’s just about it.

The meringue is nicely chewy and crispy but a softened somewhat by the sweet berry juices and the cream just sort of binds it all into one cohesive dessert. You can make several smaller meringues for individual desserts for a dinner party or one giant colossal meringue for a show-stopping dessert that everyone can just simply attack and devour.  Whichever works though, if you’ve got some beautiful ripe berries it’s going to be delicious regardless.

Mixed Berry Pavlova
Serves 6-8
Adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s My Father’s Daughter

4 egg whites
a pinch of salt
½ tsp. white vinegar
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups fresh berries (I used raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries)
1 Tbs. honey
a few sprigs of mint, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the egg whites, vinegar, and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. While this whips, combine the sugar with the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add the sugar and cornstarch to the egg mixture in thirds, whipping on high speed for about 30 seconds after each addition. Once completely incorporated, add the vanilla and continue to beat until still peaks form.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dollop the meringue onto the baking sheet in 8 small mounds, 4 medium mounds, or 1 large mound. However many you make, use a spoon to spread each dollop into a circular shape and create a bit of an indent in the center of each. Bake for 10 minutes. Then, decrease the oven temperature to 200 degrees and bake for another hour. Once finished, turn off the oven, prop open the oven door with a wooden spoon handle and let the meringues rest in the oven for an additional hour.

Once the meringue is cool, whip the cream with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Warm the honey in the microwave for about 5 seconds and pour over the berries. Mix to combine. Divide the cream evenly over the meringue and then do the same with the berries. Top each with a sprig of mint.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Banana Bread Crepe Cake (and 100,000 views!)

Holy Moly! Today this little blog here reached 100,000 views! I know that in the big grand scheme of things there are many blogs that probably get this amount of traffic in a day but this is not one of those blogs so for me this is a pretty big deal. Also, in 8 days Honeycomb will be 3 years old. Back when I had a single solitary post, I was still at the beginning stages of really getting into cooking and knew next to nothing about how to photograph food. This was nothing more than a summer project that I was certain would diminish once school started back up again. But here we still are, 80 posts later and, did I mention, 100,000 views later!

It may be nothing more than my little pet project. It doesn’t consume me and I don’t really ever want it to. It’s meant to be just for fun. But still it has helped me grow immensely as a cook and a photographer and it means so much to me whenever I find out that a friend of family member read a post or cooked a recipe from it. So thanks for helping Honeycomb get this far! I think you deserve a cake!

This here is a banana bread crepe cake. The recipe is from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen, the blog that really spurred my initial interest in blogging and the one that I go to for inspiration almost every single day. So, it really makes sense that it’s making an appearance on this monumental day.  But back to the cake. Crepe cakes are kind of my new favorite thing. Make a bunch of crepes, layer them with a nice sweet filling of some sort and you’ve got a cake. No oven needs to be turned on, there’s no worry about perfectly applied icing.  They are impressive in appearance but dead simple. Trust me, make one and watch how impressed everyone is when you slice into the multilayered goodness.

I originally made this cake for a Lumberjack themed housewarming party my roommates and I had. The original thought was that you can’t have a lumberjack party without flapjacks but them I realized that the last thing I wanted to do was flip pancakes while trying to host a party. Solution: Pancake cake! But after making it, falling in love with it, and watching it disappear within 30 minutes, I realized that this is a cake for the ages, not just for lumberjack themed parties. I made it again for my mom on Mother’s Day and she enjoyed it so much she made it for her mom a few weeks later. What’s nice is you can prepare it a day in advance too. It’s actually better this way because the overnight rest in the fridge lets the crepes and the filling meld into one cohesive, creamy cake and produces clean cuts that show off all the layers.

It is light on sweetness with a subtle banana flavor and a pleasant tang from the yogurt cream cheese filling.  I can see it being a great addition to a spring or summer brunch, topped with fresh fruit and maple syrup or for a festive 4th of July picnic, and, of course, for parties celebrating our favorite burly, wood-chopping fellows. But, it’s also perfect for a celebration of the simple things, like 100,000 views and 3 years strong. Thanks and here’s to 100,000 more!

Banana Bread Crepe Cake
Adapted very slightly from Smitten Kitchen


For the Crepes
4 Tbs Butter, melted then cooled slightly
1 large ripe banana
1 cup milk
¾ cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
2 Tbs. light brown sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp, freshly grated nutmeg

For the Filling
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1½ cups plain greek yogurt, preferably 2% or full-fat
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Maple syrup, for serving

Begin by making the crepes. Place the banana in a blender and pulse until smooth. Add the butter and blend again. Add the rest of the crepe ingredients and blend until frothy and completely smooth, scraping the sides if needed to combine any stray flour clumps. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least and hour, preferably longer. Can stay refrigerated for up to 2 days.

While the batter rests, make the filling. Whip the cream cheese using a stand mixer or handheld mixer until fluffy and smooth. Add in the yogurt, 1/3 at a time, until well incorporated. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip for another minute. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make your crepes. Heat a medium-sized skilled over medium heat. Melt about 2 Tbs. of butter in a small dish. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the skillet with the butter before cooking each crepe. Pour ¼ cup of the batter into the pan and swirl the pan around until it is evenly coated with the batter. Cook until the bottom is golden, the top has small bubbles and begins to look dry, and the crepe easily moves around the pan if you shake it slightly, about 2 minutes. Flip (see original recipe post for Deb’s flipping method – it works great) the crepe and cook on the other side for about 20 seconds. Slide the crepe onto a plate and continue making them until the batter runs out. Note that you can stack the crepes on top of one another on the plate and they, for some reason, will never stick to each other. It’s magic.

Once the crepes are cool, place one on the bottom of a cake stand or a large, flat plate. Use an offset spatula or a knife to spread ¼ cup of the filling evenly over the crepe. Top with another crepe. Repeat this process, ending with the last layer of filling on the top of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve and drizzle a healthy amount of maple syrup overtop right before serving. Top with fruit, if desired. Will keep for 3-4 days.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Carrot Bread with Cranberries and Hazelnuts

This past Saturday I finally achieved a goal that I’ve been carrying around with me for quite some time; I ran my very first half-marathon! I was a runner in high school but I sort of fell out of the habit during the stress and busyness of college. I would try to pick it back up at times but always lost the motivation. But, this past March I suddenly had a stroke of determination and signed up for a half marathon on a whim with a couple of friends.

So, Saturday morning, 3000 runners lined up at DoukénieWinery at 7:00 in the morning for the Virginia Wine Country Half-Marathon and after 2 hours and 12 minutes of experiencing the highs of running endorphins and the extreme pains of 10 simultaneous toe blisters and grinding knee joints, and then of course the final 0.1 mile sprint to the finish line, it was all over. The finish line doubled as the entrance to the winery where a huge wine tasting festival took place and later, my mom made an enormous brunch and I simultaneously shoveled pancakes, bananas, eggs, and sausage gravy into my mouth like a ravenous beast, followed by second breakfast and two full dinners; Clearly this is one of the perks that totally makes up for the pain of the run itself.

The week prior to the big race was the chance to load up of as many carbs as possible for energy stores and I still felt that need for carbs afterwards for refueling. That next day I remembered I had about a third of a bottle of carrot juice in the fridge and decided to use it to make a really unique, but one of my favorite loaves of bread.

The entire loaf is made of nothing but flour, yeast, salt, and carrot juice instead of water. It gives the crust this really nice rust color, a decent about of moisture, and a slightly sweeter flavor. I added dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts for some texture and crunch and buckwheat flour to balance out the sweetness. It uses Jim Lahey’s no-knead method too so it’s a cinch to prepare and it makes for excellent toast with peanut butter, a great side to some soup (pictured is chicken orzo avgolemono), and, my favorite, a divine turkey and cheddar sandwich. Though I didn’t have the bread during my pre-race carb loading stage, I’ll have to keep it in mind for the next one…whenever that may be.

Carrot Bread
Makes 1 round loaf

350 grams bread flour
50 grams buckwheat flour
¼ tsp instant yeast
1½ cups plain carrot juice
¾ cup dried cranberries
¾ cup hazelnut, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. sesame seeds

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, salt, and yeast. Pour in the carrot juice and use a wooden spoon or your hands to combine. Add the cranberries and hazelnuts and mix until evenly combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 12-18 hours.

Once ready, dust your counter with flour and scrape the dough onto the counter. Knead lightly and shape it into a round. Line a clean bowl with a clean dishtowel and dust heavily with flour. Sprinkle the sesame seeds into the cloth. Place the dough, seam side down, into the bowl and cover with the overhanging towel. Let rise for 1-2 hours, or until about doubled in size.

30 minutes before the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, place the oven rack in the lower third, and set a Dutch oven on the rack to preheat. Once well heated, remove the Dutch oven, take off the lid, and invert the dough into the center. Place the lid back on, and place the entire pot back into the oven for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 12-15 minutes. Be careful that the bottom does not burn. Remove from the oven and transfer the loaf to a cooling rack to cool completely before slicing.