Roasted Peach Focaccia

You just can't trust peaches anymore!

Earlier this month, I brought home a basket of the ripest, juiciest peaches I'd seen in a long time. Having nearly given up on them in the past, I was thrilled.

"They're back!" I exclaimed to absolutely no one, as the juice dripped down my chin. I devoured the entire batch in a day or so, and--quickly forgetting their past peachy transgressions--I eagerly awaited the next bunch.

They soon showed up in my CSA, plump and fragrant on the outside, but one bite led to pure disappointment.

Dry, mealy, and insipidly sweet; these came from a wonderful local farm, so I couldn't even blame the source. Once again, I found myself wondering what to do with a pile of bad peaches.

Heat is always the answer. There is something about the combination of a blah peach and the high blast of oven heat that can make everything right again. But craving something a little more savory than sweet, I skipped over the previous cakes and jams, and decided to bake some bread with my peaches.

Specifically, I made Roasted Peach Focaccia--crisp on the edges, tender on the inside, scented throughout with fresh thyme, allspice, and lemon zest. After a spell in the oven, the peaches soften and sweeten, becoming almost jammy.

Pure heaven on that salty-crisp crust.

I started out with a basic focaccia dough--water, yeast, a little sugar for sweetness, and a lot of fruity olive oil. Focaccia is rich with oil, which is why it crisps on the edges and dances on your tongue. Don't skimp on the oil! Use the good stuff, and pour it in. Roll the dough around in it. When I make focaccia, I end up with oil up to my elbows.

(No worries. I just rub it in. It's great for the skin.)

I was feeling frisky, so I decided to add a little spice to play along with the sweetness of the peaches. Some cinnamon. Some allspice. I let the mixer do the kneading, and then scraped the whole ball into an oiled bowl.

Once risen, I spread the soft, sticky dough out on a large baking sheet, stretching out my fingers and poking holes throughout for the perfect craggy texture.

While that puffed up one more time, I worked on the peaches.

I left the peels on because I'm lazy, and diced them.  I tossed them in a bowl with some lemon juice, a little sugar, vanilla, and a generous slosh of brandy I had sitting around in the kitchen from my previous adventures in brandy milk punch-making.

I sprinkled on some fresh thyme from this week's farm share, and let that whole gorgeous mess macerate into syrupy perfection.

I used my hands to tuck individual pieces of peach throughout the entire tray, admittedly eating every third piece of peach. Then drizzled it with more oil (yes!), and sprinkled on some course salt, raw sugar, and a bit more thyme.

Focaccia, you know, is all about that topping.

About 25 minutes in the oven and I had a big, gorgeous slab of fragrant peach focaccia. I let it cool (barely; I'm impatient), and then served rectangles of it topped with salty prosciutto di parma and crumbled goat cheese.

Eugene walked in the door a few minutes after I finished taking these photos. "Oh what's this!? Is this for eating?"

We each had one, then another, and another. It was lovely with wine, then again for breakfast with coffee the next morning. In the afternoon, we enjoyed it with a bubbly red and a bit more ham, and each time I go into the kitchen, I notice yet another square missing.

The rest of the tray likely won't last the night.

Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Roasted Peach Focaccia Recipe

2 cups warm (not hot!) water
1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoons raw sugar (substitute granulated white sugar)
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus 1/2 cup for greasing pan

For the topping:
3 large peaches, pitted and diced (do not peel)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup brandy or bourbon
2 tablespoons fresh thyme plus additional for garnish
Fresh lemon zest, course sea salt, and raw sugar, for garnish

In the base of a mixer, combine the water, yeast, and sugar and whisk together. Let sit 5 minutes until foamy.  Add the flour, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and 1/2 cup olive oil to bowl and use the dough hook to mix for 1-2 minutes until it forms a dough, then knead for 5 additional minutes. (If dough is too wet, add more flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, but keep in mind that the dough should be sticky).

Grease a bowl with olive oil, then scrape the dough into the bowl, turn once to coat, and then cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 1 hour or until doubled.

In the meantime, combine the peaches, lemon juice, brown sugar, vanilla, brandy, and 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves. Mix and let sit at room temperature while the dough rises.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Once the dough has doubled, pour the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil into a cookie sheet pan and spread out evenly. Then dump the dough into the center of the pan and use your hands to press and stretch until it reaches the edges. Use your fingers to make holes throughout the dough (this will create focaccia's bumpy texture.) Let rise 30 - 40 minutes until doubled.

Once risen, arrange the macerated peaches throughout the dough, pressing them in slightly. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and sprinkle generously with lemon zest, coarse sea salt, raw sugar, and fresh thyme.

Bake 25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp at the edges. Remove and let cool before cutting into slices and serving.

Note: This focaccia is best the first day, but still pretty great a day or two after. Keep the leftovers tightly wrapped at room temperature, and then pop the leftovers in the oven for a few minutes to crisp them up again slightly before serving again. 


New Orleans Brandy Milk Punch

When I asked for the check after breakfast that first morning in New Orleans, the waitress offered me my choice of a to-go cocktail. It took me by surprise until I remembered that in this city, sipping on the streets is not just allowed, it is encouraged.

As she rattled off the list of options, my ears perked at the mention of a Brandy Milk Punch.

I'd never had a brandy milk punch, though the name had certainly passed through the pages of stories I've read, and it always sounded like something I would like.

A chilled, sweet combination of cool milk, brandy, vanilla and fresh nutmeg, it was once common throughout the country, back when ladies wore long skirts and high necks, and punch bowl drinks were the fashion. Its popularity has long since dwindled, and the cocktail has been relegated to the backs of novelty paper place mats, and the occasional nostalgic Christmas magazine article.

Except in New Orleans, where the line between past and present is beautifully fuzzy, at best.

There, the cool, old fashioned beverage is sipped all year long, as common and current on brunch menus as Bloody Marys and Mimosas.

Everywhere we went, I spotted whole nutmeg seeds nestled comfortably between the lemon wedges, olives, and maraschino cherries. A carton of milk tucked in the fridge below the bar. And on the streets, condensation dripped off milky, brimming plastic cups held tight by tourists and locals alike.

I trusted my gut and ordered it, and then...

I fell in love!

Reminiscent of eggnog, but lighter and fresher. Strangely and unexpectedly refreshing in the sweltering August sun, I finished mine while weaving through narrow, sun-cracked streets, and immediately started looking around for my next fix.

At Napoleon House, they're made with bourbon, which is good, but I prefer the grapes. At Stanley, they're made with brandy, and served both on the rocks, and as a more decadent milkshake. We didn't get to try it, but I heard that the one at Commander's Palace can't be beat.

Upon getting home, I set about making my own. I bought a bottle of good-enough brandy (the too-good stuff would just get lost in the dairy), and researched recipes.

Like just about everything in New Orleans, there seemed to be a dozen right answers. Some specified half & half. Others, heavy cream. For my version, I stuck with good, whole milk, with a generous splash of cream.

The methods also varied: Some called for shaking with cracked ice while others brought out the blender. One rather tempting method recommended freezing the whole concoction for 3 or so hours until slushy, but my impatience and eagerness to taste it again, meant that I went with the simplest route: a quick whisk poured over a tall glass filled with ice.

A perfect sip no matter the season, hour, or venue.

Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

New Orleans Brandy Milk Punch Recipe
Serves 2. Multiply as necessary.

1/2 cup brandy
1 1/2 cups very cold whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional; replace with additional milk if desired)
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar (plus more to taste)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Scant pinch of kosher salt
Ice cubes
Whole or ground nutmeg

In a pitcher, combine the brandy, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir vigorously until combined and frothy. Taste to adjust sweetness.

Fill two glasses with ice cubes and divide milk punch into the glasses. Top each with a generous grating or sprinkle of nutmeg, and serve immediately. 


Homemade S'Mores Granola

If you read food blogs (and you're here, so I assume you do), you've probably been seeing a lot of  s'mores posts this week.

Why? Because August 10th is National S'Mores Day--a ridiculous and totally arbitrary holiday invented by the people who sell marshmallows that I've nonetheless decided to honor because I LOVE MARSHMALLOWS!

I'm totally the girl who walks slowly down the marshmallow aisle at the grocery store, squeezing and smelling every bag. (I prefer the smell of marshmallows to the smell of roses. I would one day like to have a marshmallow garden.)

I actually love them so much that I can't buy them because I WILL eat the entire bag by myself in a single sitting. I have zero control.

When I do buy marshmallows for a recipe or party, I have to force myself to hide them in the freezer or in the VERY back of the VERY high shelf. It works...until a few weeks later when I'm hunting around for a can of chickpeas and come across the bag.

At which point I immediately sit down on top of the counter to eat every single one (even better when they're kind of stale or partially frozen...oh yes!).

Marshmallows are totally my kryptonite.

And this granola you see here? Oh geez. I'm in so much trouble.

This stuff is GOOD. It's not just granola with chocolate and marshmallows in it. It's granola that tastes like graham crackers.

Let me repeat that...the clusters of granola actually TASTE LIKE GRAHAM CRACKERS!

The secret here was a result of some nerdiness on my part. I was reading about the history of the graham cracker, and learned that it was originally invented as a health food by Reverend Sylvester Graham, an early 19th century Presbyterian minister.

He loathed white flour with a passion, and developed a special and naturally sweet flour made by using all of the grain. This flour was used to make the plain cookies known as graham crackers.

The original graham crackers were nothing like the cheap things you get in the Honey Maid box today. Most commercial brands don't even use graham flour anymore--just loads of sugar.

You can buy graham flour at health food stores and online via Amazon or King Arthur, but you can also make a version of homemade graham flour by combining white flour, wheat bran, and wheat germ. And I figured out that it's the wheat germ that imparts that graham cracker flavor.

So that's the secret ingredient: I added wheat germ to my granola. When mixed with brown rice syrup [see note at end of recipe], butter, and a bit of brown sugar, the result is an addictive granola that tastes like little clusters of marshmallow-covered graham crackers.

Mixed with dark chocolate chunks, plush marshmallows, and cacao nibs for a little extra chocolate-y touch, the result is an indulgent and unbelievably delicious breakfast or dessert treat.

Eat this on its own, with milk, or in a bowl over yogurt. It's all good!

Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Homemade S'Mores Granola
Wheat germ and rice syrup give the oat clusters in the homemade granola a distinct graham cracker taste. When paired with marshmallows and chocolate, it's the perfect breakfast version of the classic campfire dessert.

2 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1/2 cup plain wheat germ
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup Brown Rice Syrup (See note below or substitute Golden Syrup, corn syrup, or honey)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips
2 cups mini marshmallows (or use large artisan marshmallows and snip them, like I did)
1/3 cup cacao nibs (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir the oats, wheat germ and kosher salt until evenly distributed. Set aside.

Combine butter, brown sugar, and brown rice syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Stir vigorously a few times to combine the mixture into a thick syrup.

Pour the syrup mixture over the oats and mix well until all the oats are covered with the syrup. Pour the oats onto the prepared sheet pan and spread out into a single layer, dividing the oats into little clumps (like granola!). Bake 10 - 15 minutes, or until oats are golden brown. Set baking sheet on a rack and let cool completely for 30 minutes (they will harden as they cool).

Once completely cool, stir in the chocolate chunks, marshmallows, and cocoa nibs (if using).

Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container or zipped baggie in a cool, dry place.

Note: Brown Rice Syrup (also known as Rice Malt Syrup and Rice Syrup) is a delicious sweetener made from brown rice. Similar in color and texture to corn syrup or honey, it's low on the glycemic index and contains zero fructose, which means it doesn't affect the body's blood sugar levels as dramatically as other sweeteners. It's also really really good, with a mild, almost caramel-like flavor that works beautifully in this recipe. It's available at stores like Whole Foods, online and at health food stores. I urge you to seek it out as it is a really wonderful and versatile ingredient. 


Travel Diaries: Old Stone Farm, Staatsburg, NY

Sometimes, one of the very best things about living in New York City, is that it's a wonderfully easy city to escape from. A quick train ride or a short drive in just about any direction, and you're worlds away.

This past weekend, Eugene and I took advantage of this very thing, and drove up to the Old Stone Farm in Staatsburg, NY, for a couple days of country living.

Less than two hours from the city, Old Stone Farm is a recently-opened horse farm, spa, and wellness center located on a bucolic 236-acre horse farm in the heart of Duchess County.

The restored 200-year-old property features a 10-room inn, library, yoga barn, outdoor dining pavilion, horse barn, indoor and outdoor riding rings, as well as a full-service spa including massage, wet rooms, and steam sauna cabinets.

And it is GORGEOUS!

As Eugene and I drove up the gravel entry path, we were absolutely stunned by the seemingly endless rolling hills and woods that surrounded us.

At the top of it all, sat the inn--a cluster of restored antique barns and stone farm houses that became our home for the weekend.

Our stay began at Pop's Kitchen--a lovely country house with a series of dining rooms that served as the hub for the weekend--where we were warmly greeted by staff members Jenn and Renzo.

The two helped us with our luggage, valeted our car, and led us to our bedroom, located on the second floor of a gorgeous renovated barn.

The room was incredible (I'm mad that I didn't take any photos of it!). Big and airy with high ceilings, original pale wood beams, and a large bed covered in silky Frette linens.

After a quick rest, we walked down to the pavilion to join the inn's owner and the other weekend guests for wine and hors d'oeuvres of latkes topped with an herb cream and smoked salmon. (Eugene ate at least six of these.)

We introduced ourselves--the group that weekend included two psychotherapists, a producer, an energy worker, and a journalist--and then chatted until it was time to ring the dinner bell.

Our first dinner, prepared by their resident chef (and genius!), Chef Matt, was incredible. I instantly relaxed knowing that I would be well fed all weekend long.

(Fun fact about me: few things stress me out more than mediocre food--something which was NOT an issue here.)

That night, we started with a chopped salad of local vegetables (updated beyond the classic with a touch of bitter radicchio), followed by an entree of seared cilantro-marinated halibut served seared over a local sweet corn hash and red pepper cream.

For dessert, we had a dark almost-flourless chocolate raspberry cake with homemade local raspberry sorbet. It was so good that I basically tuned out of the conversation, entering into a little chocolate-induced reverie.

[Note: I took photos of this meal, and then proceeded to accidentally delete them all, so my prose will have to suffice.]

The next morning, Eugene and I walked along a lovely dew-covered path back to Pop's Kitchen to check out the breakfast offerings.

We were happy to learn that breakfast was served family style (my favorite!) with a selection of fresh, chewy bagels, whipped cream cheese, and a platter piled with lox, local tomatoes, and red onions.

For those with a sweet tooth, there was also a large bowl of Chef Matt's homemade granola, yogurt, local milk, and berries.

Naturally, Eugene and I helped ourselves to a little bit of everything...

After breakfast, the owner, Sherry, invited us to hop onto a golf cart for a drive down to the horse barn located on the opposite end of the property.

Her dog, a charming Wheaton Terrier named Buddha, led the way.

We met and fed a few of the horses, and then entered the barn where we each took turns riding around the inside track.

After horseback riding, we were ready for lunch, which we ate at a little table on the sunny porch overlooking the property.

We started off with a sweet and creamy (albeit dairy-free!) local corn soup topped off with queso fresco and an avocado, corn, and tomato salsa.

It was so good and filling that I honestly thought that was the whole meal, and would have been perfectly happy if it had been.

Just as I was wondering if I should get up to go, they set down another stunning plate: coleslaw topped with a veggie burger made of mushrooms, cashews, and bulgar wheat, with a spicy bbq sauce, pickled red onions, and tomato arugula salad.

It was one of those "you don't even miss the meat!" kind of vegetarian dishes.

For dessert, we had homemade ginger ice cream in a local blueberry soup.

I literally had to stop myself from licking this plate clean.

(And Eugene had to stop himself from taking the dessert of the lady sitting behind him who didn't eat dairy or sugar; restraint we both later ended up regretting.)

Feeling deliciously satisfied, Eugene and I skipped yoga, and drove 10 minutes to nearby Rhinebeck for a little shopping and exploring (my preferred form of exercise).

It was a tiny little town filled with shops and restaurants; very cute, but we covered the entire two-block town in about 15 minutes, and decided to just go back to the farm for a little reading in the sun.

(Had we not just eaten, I probably would have loved to check out one of the local restaurants.)

(Although really, we were just killing time until dinner.)

While walking back to the dining room for dinner, we bumped into a new couple who arrived that evening.

They were about our age, which Eugene and I were SUPER excited about as the other guests, while really lovely, were all a few decades older. It was nice to have some new friends our own age to play with.

The four of us grabbed a table together, and quickly fell into loud and lively conversation about everything from wine tasting in Sonoma to Tara Reid's spectacular performance in Sharknado.

After another amazing meal (arugula salad with marcona almonds, braised chicken over polenta, and homemade strawberry sorbet over macerated berries), we took a bottle of wine and some blankets outside, and settled onto a cluster of Adirondack chairs to watch the sun set and look out for shooting stars, satellites, and potential space ships.

On Sunday, I woke up excited for more bagels (so chewy and delicious!) and lox, but was thrilled to learn that there also were huevos rancheros on the menu.

(Please note the "also.")

In typical Alejandra style, I had a little bit of each.

Actually, I just had a full portion of each (for research and photography purposes).

After breakfast, Eugene sprayed himself with OFF! and went for a "hike/aggressive walk" in the woods, while I settled down onto a rocking chair in the sun like the lazy lady that I am.

(I'm not into things like excessive nature.)

He soon joined me, and we did some reading, followed by a walk along the (non woody) parts of the property.

At noon, we headed back up to our sunny table and sat down to wait for lunch, which was probably one of my favorite meals.

We started off with a watermelon and feta salad (Eugene was fascinated by the yellow watermelon even though I have totally purchased it and served it at home in the past).

The main was the coolest vegetarian dish I've ever had in my life: all-veggie reubens!

Toasted multi-grain bread, homemade thousand island dressing, melty swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and a slaw of shredded carrots and parsnips.

It was so weird and delicious; we devoured it in seconds.

For dessert, they brought out a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip pecan cookies. Eugene, who claims to not like nuts in his baked goods, loved his.

And when they offered us a couple more, we quickly accepted.

After exchanging emails with some of the other guests, we reluctantly checked out and headed back home feeling refreshed and ready for the week ahead.

If you're looking for a luxurious weekend trip near New York City, this is definitely the place to go. We were so impressed by the attention to detail evident in every corner of that home, and look forward to returning soon!

Old Stone Farm is a wonderful place to visit if you're looking for an escape from city life.  In addition to standard lodgings (rates start at $295), the inn also offers a number of personal development workshops and retreats, daily yoga classes, riding, guided hikes/nature walks, and spa and wellness treatments. Old Stone Farm is also available for weddings and other gatherings. All meals are included in the price of your stay.

For more information visit Old Stone Farm's website, or call 845-876-3977.

Old Stone Farm
2434 State Route 9G
Stattsburg, NY 12580

Phone:  845-876-3977

Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Note: Our stay at Old Stone Farm was graciously provided to us at no charge as part of a press preview. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this post, and all opinions are (of course!) my own.

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