Friday, August 17, 2012

When life hands you a big zucchini...

Make Honey Zucchini Bread & Cake!  

That's a big zucchini!

It happens every year.  A zucchini hides  from us for most of the summer and slowly but surely turns into baseball bat.  Usually it just gets tossed on the compost pile and we move on. But this year for some reason, I felt compelled to try to put at least some of this beast to use.  It sent me to my cookbooks and the internet searching for some zucchini bread and cake recipes.

I'm happy to report that I have two delicious zucchini recipes to share, both of which use honey as part (or all!) to sweeten.

The first recipe, Chocolate Honey Zucchini Bread, is adapted from one on the King Arthur Flour website, which is always a great source for bread and cake recipes. The King Arthur recipe calls for chocolate chips, which are not included in mine because Robert is adamantly opposed to chocolate chips. (He hates chocolate chip cookies! No lie!) Ah, but he loves this Chocolate Honey Zucchini Bread, and ate half of it before I could take a photo of the finished product. There's no better compliment, actually.  Thanks, Rob!

The second recipe, a Honey Zucchini Bundt Cake, is adapted from a honey zucchini bread recipe on  It's also quite good and would be lovely with a little cream cheese, too.

I'll be making more of both recipes to freeze, because I still have half of that zucchini sitting on my counter! (Robert says he wouldn't be surprised if it doubles in size overnight.  He suspects that even when you take them off the vine, they keep growing.)

Chocolate Honey Zucchini Bread

2 large eggs
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional -but nice!)
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa
1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease a loaf pan (mine was 9x5--an 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 will also work)

Beat the eggs, honey, oil, brown sugar and vanilla in a large bowl.  In another bowl, whisk together the salt, soda, baking powder, espresso powder, cocoa and flour.  Add this to the honey/egg/oil mixture and mix until well combined.  Stir in the zucchini.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool for about 10 minutes and then remove from the pan.  If you can keep your peeps away, let it cool completely before slicing.

Honey Zucchini Bundt Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Oil and flour a Bundt or fluted cake pan.

3 cups unbleached white all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 cups graded raw, unpeeled zucchini
3 eggs, slightly beaten
2/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 2/3rd cups honey
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and ground cinnamon in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine the eggs, oil, honey & vanilla and zucchini.  Add this to the dry ingredients and stir just to combine.  Stir in the walnuts to distribute.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool for about 15 minutes and then remove from pan.

Looking for even more zucchini bread options?  Check out Allie Smith's blog "Allie's Life" for a recipe for banana zucchini bread, which includes the option to honey as a sweetner.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Refreshing Watermelon & Honey Drink!

This is a great way to enjoy watermelon that's a bit past its prime.  The original recipe, called Watermelon Agua Fresca, came from Miriam Rubin in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  Her recipe calls for three tablespoons of granulated sugar, but in our humble opinion, honey adds a certain je ne sais quoi that really makes this drink delicious.  It's cold, frothy and a bit thick--and very refreshing.  If you'd like it thinner, add some more ice water.  I also found that to get the blender really humming it helps to chop the watermelon into small chunks. Robert added a splash of vodka to his, which takes the drink to another level--but it's wonderful on its own!

Watermelon & Honey Drink
8 cups seedless watermelon cut into small chunks (about 1/2 of a large, seedless watermelon)
1 cup ice water with ice cubes
3 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup lemon or lime juice (I used lime juice and think it's the best flavor--the recipe calls for fresh juice, which is also the best flavor, but I didn't have that many limes hanging around and the bottled was just fine)

ice cubes and mint leaves for serving--always nice.

Puree the watermelon chunks in three batches, with 1/3 cup of water and 1 tablespoon honey added to each batch.  Put the puree in a pitcher and then stir in the lime juice. Taste and add more lime juice or honey if necessary--if you're adding the honey at the end like this, you might want to put some of the puree in a blender with the extra honey to be sure it dissolves in to the drink well.  Cover and chill--or pour over ice.  Makes about 8 glasses.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

100% Honey Baklava

We've been keeping bees since 2004 and it's high time that I've made a pan of baklava, don't you think? It's not working with filo that has put me off (read on for comments about that); it's  that most of the recipes I've found for baklava do not call for much honey. The sweetness tends to come mostly from making a syrup with sugar and water syrup. A bit of honey seems to be added just for flavor.  Alton Brown, whose recipes I appreciate for their precision, has a baklava recipe that relies on a sugar/water/honey syrup mixture. The Authentic Greek Recipes blog has a baclava (baklava) recipe that doesn't call for any honey at all. Even the National Honey Board's website includes a baklava recipe that uses a sugar/water syrup.

The recipe I used here relies only on honey for sweetness and comes from the National Honey Board's 1994 Sweetened With Honey The Natural Way cookbook.  The recipe is also available on their website.  It may not be authentic Greek baclava, but it's delicious and surprisingly not so sweet that it makes your teeth ache. It is, though, quite rich (using at least 1/2 pound of clarified butter) and it'd be impossible to classify this as diet food!

Though filo dough frightens some, it's surprisingly easy to work with as long as you don't let it dry out.  While making the layers, cover the unused sheets with some waxed paper and put a slightly dampened tea towel on top.  If a few of the sheets tear, don't worry--they'll be covered up by the next layer.

I've made a few changes to the recipe based on this test batch and include the original directions below along with my changes.

100% Honey Baklava
3 cups finely chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
dash of ground cloves
about 3/4 cup clarified butter (see note below for how to make clarified butter. The recipe calls for 1 pound of butter, which I think is way too much!)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 package filo pastry sheets, thawed (the recipe called for 1 pound of filo, also way too much)
Honey syrup (recipe follows)

Combine walnuts and spices in a bowl and set aside.  Reserve about 1/4 cup clarified butter for brushing the bottom and top filo layers.  Stir the 1/2 cup of honey into the remaining 1/2 cup of clarified butter.  Brush the bottom of a 13x9x2 inch baking pan with just the clarified butter (not honey/butter mixture).  Lay one sheet of filo in the pan (cutting to fit if needed) and brush it with just clarified butter.  Do this six times--brushing the sheets with just clarified each time.

Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the walnut mixture.  Place 2 filo sheets on top of the walnuts, liberally brushing each with the butter/honey mixture. Sprinkle another 1/2 cup of walnuts, followed by 2 filo sheets, each brushed with the butter/honey mixture.  Do this four more times until all of the nut mixture is used up.  Finish with the remaining filo sheets, this time brushing each one with just the clarified butter.  You should have about 5 or 6 filo sheets on top.

With a sharp knife, cut the the baklava into diamond shaped pieces, being sure to cut all the way through.  Place pan in a preheated 325 degree oven and bake for 45 minutes.  REDUCE THE OVEN HEAT TO 275 AND BAKE 20 MINUTES MORE.  Remove from oven and while still very hot, spoon the cooled honey syrup over the entire surface.  Makes about 2 dozen pieces.

1 cup honey
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, about 3 inches long
1 1 /2 teaspoons lemon juice

Combine all but the lemon juice in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Add lemon juice and simmer about 5 minutes more.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Remove the cloves and cinnamon stick before spooning on to the baklava.

To make clarified butter:  Cut 3/4ths pound (three sticks) of unsalted butter into 1 inch pieces and melt in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Skim off foam; strain clear yellow liquid into a bowl, leaving the cloudy residue at the bottom. The clear yellow liquid is the clarified butter.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cherry Honey Clafouti

Robert returned from a trip to Montana with a passel of Flathead Lake cherries--more than we'll be able to eat out of hand (which is a shame, 'cause these cherries are delicious!).  So, I've been doing some sweet cherry and honey recipe testing.  One result is this cherry clafouti (pronounced cla-FOO-tee). You don't need Flathead Lake cherries from Montana to make this dish--any sweet cherry will do.  You could also substitute fresh apricots, or even some very ripe pears.

Clafouti is a rich, eggy dessert--a kind of sturdy custard pie filling without the pastry.  The original  recipe, which calls for sugar,  is from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World (2005).   Bittman claims that "this is one of the most successful spontaneous desserts you can add to your repertoire, yet fancy enough for a blowout dinner party."  That convinced me to give it a try, though I have to admit it's not among my favorite desserts (a bit too eggy for me).  I wasn't going to post it on the blog until I noticed that Rob's been making his way through it--even a few days after it was made!

Cherry Honey Clafouti
1 1/4 lbs sweet cherries, pitted (or 1 pound ripe apricots--halved and pitted; or 3-4 very ripe pears, stemmed, peeled, halved and cored)
1/3 cup honey (Bittman's recipe calls for 1/2 cup sugar)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped)
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (omit if using sugar)
1 1/2 cups half-and-half (or 3/4 cup heavy cream--or yogurt! and 3/4 cup milk)
pinch of salt.

Butter a gratin dish that's large enough to hold the fruit in one layer.  Sprinkle the dish with sugar.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Lay the cherries in the pan in one layer, cut side down.

Using a mixer (or whisk) beat the eggs until foamy. Slowly add the honey and beat until foamy and thick.  Add the vanilla extract or scrape the vanilla seeds into the mixture.  In a separate bowl, stir together the flour,  baking soda and salt together.  Add to the egg mixture and beat until thick and smooth.  Add the half-and-half (or cream and milk), stirring to combine.  Slowly pour the mixture over the fruit in the prepared gratin pan and bake for about 20 minutes, until clafouti is browned on top and a knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Sift confectioners sugar over top.  Serve warm or room temperature.  Serves 8 (easily).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Honeyed Peach Pie Filling (for freezing)

I missed the "Peach Jam" at McConnell's Family Farm on Sunday, July 29, 2012 hosted by Slow Food Pittsburgh--but I've done a little stocking up on peaches for the winter on my own.  I made the filling for a peach pie, which I'll freeze and pull out one of those gloomy days in mid-November or beginning of February when we could use a little sweet peach sunshine.  I call it "Pop-in-the-Pan" Peach Filling because the idea is that you freeze the filling in a pie plate so that you can pop it right in pastry-lined pie pan, pop on a top crust and bake it without much fuss at all.  Great for unexpected company!  The recipe is fairly basic; you can try this with any pie filling you'd like--I've made blueberry and strawberry pies this way.  This recipe make filling for two pies.  You can double that if you have a lot of peaches (or cut it in half if you want to make only one pie).  Oh, and you could just go ahead and make a peach pie with this recipe, too. If that's the case, then I'd skip the ascorbic acid step.

Pop-in-the-Pan Honeyed Peach Pie Filling for Freezing
2 quarts peeled fresh peaches, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon powdered ascorbic acid*
1/2 gallon water
1/2-3/4 cup honey, depending on how sweet the peaches are
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca, finely ground in a spice mill
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place the peaches in a large container.  Dissolve the ascorbic acid in the water and pour over the peaches.  Drain.  Combine the peaches, honey, tapioca, lemon juice and salt.  

Line two pie plates with heavy-duty aluminum foil, extending the foil about 5 inches over the rims.  Divide the filling evenly between the pans.  Fold the foil loosely over the filling and place in freezer until filling is frozen (about 4 hours) Remove from freezer, take the filling from the pie plates and wrap the foil snugly around filling.  Label with directions for baking (see below) and place in freezer bags.  

*NOTE:  I didn't have any powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C on hand), which prevents the peaches from browning,  so I ground up some vitamin C tablets (ascorbic acid is vitamin C, after all).  That's not ideal because the tablets include some filler used to keep the tablet intact.  If, like me, you don't have any powdered ascorbic acid around and don't want to use vitamin C tablets, you can use lemon juice or vinegar instead. The peaches will likely turn a bit browner with the lemon juice (and vinegar may add some acidic notes to the final filling flavor).  Use 1/4 cup lemon juice or vinegar for 1/2 gallon of water.

To bake:  Remove the foil from the filling and place it, unthawed, in a pastry-lined pie plate (the same size that you used to form the filling).  Dot with 1-2 tablespoons of butter and sprinkle with cinnamon (or nutmeg) if you'd like.  Add top crust, flute edges and add vent holes. (Or! check out my handy all-butter pie crust recipe and "rustic" fold-the-top-over method of forming the top crust.)  Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until bubbly. (You might need to tent the crust with foil to keep from over-browning.)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Refreshing Cucumber Salad with Honey

I bought some pickling cucumbers at a farm stand, thinking that I might get ambitious and make some pickles.  The cukes were too bitter for that, though (and truth be told, they were hanging out in the fridge a bit longer than they should have--not a good venue for pickle potential!).  Mollie Katzen's classic Moosewood Cookbook came to my rescue with this recipe, which she calls "Balkan Cucumber Salad."  It's like a deconstructed cold cucumber soup (click here for last year's post that includes Katzen's Chilled Cucumber Soup recipe).

This salad is best very cold, though refrigerating the salad for a few hours also makes it weep a bit.  Stir it well before sprinkling on the walnuts and serving.

Refreshing Cucumber Salad with Honey
1/2 cup thinly sliced (or minced) red onion
5-6 small cucumbers, peeled if bitter or not homegrown
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup yogurt
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, minced
1/2 cup (packed) fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped

Soak the onion in cold water for about 30 minutes.  Drain thoroughly and pat dry.  Cut cucumbers in half and seed them and then slice into 1/4 inch half rounds.  Add everything else EXCEPT the walnuts. Cover and chill for at least an hour.  Just before serving, give the salad a good stir and sprinkle the walnuts on top.  Makes about 4 generous servings.