Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Attend a beekeeper's meeting!

Want to learn more about bees and beekeepers? I'm the president of the Beaver Valley Area Beekeepers Assn. and we are having our regular membership meeting on April 25 at 7PM. Our speaker is a former president of the Ohio state keepers association and he will be talking about making "splits and nucs". Don't know what heck those are? Come and find out! All are welcome.
directions can be found on this link: http://beavercountyconservationdistrict.org/index.asp

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review of Honey Cookbooks, Part II

I've added three more honey cookbooks to our library this month, and am disappointed to say that I can recommend only one of them without reservation.

Gene Opton with Nancie Hughes. (2000). Honey:  A connoisseur's guide with recipes.  (Berkeley, CA:  Ten Speed Press).  I think this book may be out of print, but is available from private sellers through on-line booksellers. (I purchased it for less than $10.)  It offers a nice overview of how bees make honey, honey's properties, the rich array of honey varieties and how to use them. Apparently, Gene Opton was quite a honey collector, having more than 100 varieties on her pantry shelves.   In the 1970s, she owned The Kitchen, a gourmet cookware store in Berkeley, CA.  Alice Waters credits Opton with providing the solid business background that put Chez Panisse on firm footing.  The recipes range from breads and muffins to main dishes to syrups and toppings.  There are recipes for corn fritters, honey ice cream, and sweet-and-sour coleslaw. A few of the recipes are illustrated, but most are not.  If you were going to get only one honey-based cookbook, you wouldn't go wrong with this one.   Last night, I made "Mrs. G's Chocolate Brownies," which use honey as the exclusive sweetener and they came out great.  I'll include the recipe in a later post.

NOT (as) RECOMMENDED (though both books do have some merits!)
May Berenbaum. (2010). Honey, I'm Homemade:  Sweet treats from the beehive across the centuries and around the world. (Urbana, IL:  University of Illinois Press).  Less than $15. As one of the most recent honey-focused cookbooks on the market, I had high hopes for this book and am disappointed that it doesn't live up to my expectations.  Berenbaum is an entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author of many brightly-named books about bugs (e.g.Ninety-nine Gnats, Nits and Nibblers).  She is neither a beekeeper nor a chef and that, unfortunately, shows in this collection.  As the title suggests, the recipes focus on "sweet treats"--and include a range of recipes for cookies, breads, pies, cakes, and even a few candies. For this book, Berenbaum sought recipes from colleagues, friends and bee clubs.  She did not test all of the recipes, instead relying on those who gave her the recipes to vouch for them. For example, one recipe for Spiced Honey Cake Cocaigne is from a colleague who hasn't made the recipe in more than 25 years (but remembers it fondly).  Berenbaum does source most of her recipes and provides a nice discussion of honey's properties, complete with citations to scholarly studies to back up those claims.  I'll give a few of the recipes a try and present the results in a future post.

Jenni Fleetwood (2008). Honey: Nature's wonder ingredient:  100 amazing uses from traditional cures to food and beauty, with tips, hints and 40 tempting recipes. (London: Lorenz Books).  I purchased this book for less than $10 on-line. As the subtitle makes clear, it covers a variety of uses for honey and beeswax, from health and healing to beauty to cleaning products to food recipes.  It includes honey-based remedies for ailments like hangovers and tension as well as facial scrubs, bath bombs and shampoo. It has one chapter of food recipes that offers a variety of smoothies, some meat and fish dishes and inventive dressings, relishes and dips (e.g. honey, carrot and almond relish).  It's richly illustrated with gorgeous photos.  Though it was printed in the UK, the recipes include US measurements.  It also includes information about calorie and nutrition amounts of the dishes.  My biggest gripe about this book is that it makes many unsupported claims (honey-based treatments for insomnia, bedwetting, and hair loss, for example).   If you're looking for a well-illustrated book that includes great honey recipes as well as formulas for honey and beeswax-based beauty treatments, I'd point you instead to Charlton & Newdick's A Taste of Honey, reviewed in Part I.

I have one more book on the way: Honey: More than 75 Delicious and Healthy Recipes and will review it when it arrives!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lentil, Beet & Honey Salad

Two-for-one recipe day here at SteffesWood Apiary!  Robert has been busy cleaning up the garden this spring and planting peas, pak-choi and beets. The beets made me hungry for this salad, which is one of the best salads in the world--bar none!  It has lots of fabulous umami--a rich savoriness that makes this salad a meal on its own (especially if you're a beet fan).  It's adapted from Martha Stewart Living magazine

1 lb fresh beets, trimmed
1/2 cup water
1 3/4 teaspoons coarse salt, divided
olive oil
3/4 cup dried lentils (French green lentils are lovely, but plain brown ones also work--they may not need to cook as long, though)
1 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
1/2 cup red onions, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar (or other flavored vinegar--truth be told, cider vinegar would be fine!)
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger)
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Lettuce (for serving--optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place beets in dish with 1/2 cup water and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt.  Cover with aluminum foil.  Bake until beets are tender, about 50 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, peel beets and toss with a little olive oil.  Chop beets into 1/2 inch pieces. (See note at the end of the recipe for an alternative way to prepare the beets.)

While beets are baking, place lentils and ginger slices in a sauce pan and cover with 1 inch of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain and discard ginger.  Stir in 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt.  In a small bowl, combine 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt with ginger, onion, vinegar and honey.  Steep for 15 minutes.  Stir in oil and coriander.  Pour onto warm lentils and toss to coat.  Stir in mint and cilantro.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Place beets on top of lentils. Serve on a bed of lettuce, if you'd like.

NOTE: A few years ago on a blistering mid-July day, Burgh Bees and Slow Food offered honey-based recipes at the Farmers@Firehouse Market in the Strip District and served this salad.  The Slow Food cook who prepared the salad couldn't bear to turn on her oven, so she grated the raw beets and put them in the salad--it was delicious.  Just sayin'!

Honey-Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

The chilly weather has brought out the baker in me.  These cookies were taste-tested by our niece Hillary and her friend, Brendan.  I had to grab the plate away to be sure I had a few left for my lunch the next day!  They're delicious, but they do have a texture that is...different.  These are not thin, chewy chip cookies, yet they're also not cake-y either.  They're thick, sturdy and chewy.  Hillary and Brendan say that a tall cold glass of milk for dipping really make these cookies sing!

1/2 cup honey (a nice amber summer honey would be best)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a bit extra for pressing the cookies down with a glass
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 oz. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the honey, peanut butter, butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and thoroughly combine.  Sift (or whisk) the flour, soda and salt together.  Add the flour mixture to the bowl and thoroughly combine with the peanut butter honey mixture. Stir in the chips so that they're evenly distributed throughout.  Roll dough into balls about the size of a walnut.  Surprisingly, the dough is not that sticky, so this is easy to do.  Evenly space on an un-greased cookie sheet.  Place a little flour in a small bow.  Dip a glass in the flour and then use the glass to press the cookie flat--about 1/2 inch thick.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, watching carefully because the honey makes the bottoms brown quickly.  Makes about 48 cookies.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

First Spring Inspection!

Robert lighting the smoker
Late March in Western Pennsylvania looks pretty bleak to us, but the bees are very active as they build up for the spring nectar flow to come. Whenever the weather warms up even a little bit, foragers are out collecting pollen and nectar from the maples and other early flowering trees. Inside the hive the queen is ramping up her egg laying as the nurse bees feed and warm the voracious larvae.

We took advantage of a sunny, calm Sunday afternoon to open up some hives and see how are bees are progressing. While Jennie took photos, we were joined by Nick and John, new beekeepers getting their first experience dipping their mitts into boxes full of bugs with stingers.

Nick gently lifting a frame from the deep
A strong colony of overwintered bees!
A bit of smoke blown into the entrance of the hive disables the guard bees' alarm system. This keeps the bees docile as we pull out the frames.

Nick inspecting his first frame

Here we have Nick inspecting his first frame. We are looking to see if the queen is alive and laying well. We don't have to actually find her, we can infer her presence by finding eggs and larvae. We are also checking to see if there are any diseases and if the colony has plenty of stores.

Puffy cells above are capped brood
We did spot the queen in one of the hives. Can you find her? Hint: look in the center right of the picture below. The queen has been marked with a light blue dot of paint on her thorax. You can also see clearly how much longer her egg-filled abdomen is than those of her daughters.

Can you find the queen?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Honey Vegetable Stir Fry

We tried this last night with our fave-rave beekeeping bud, Steve Repasky, who gave it a thumbs up.  Steve favors meat dishes, so that's quite an endorsement!
Serves 4 to 6

canola oil to coat bottom of frying pan or wok
1/2 large Spanish onion, cut in 1/4 inch rings
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
toasted sesame oil
2 cups broccoli (stems peeled), cut in 1 inch pieces
1 red pepper, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 carrot, cut on the diagonal about 1/4 inch thick
1/4 small head of red cabbage, cut in 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup honey (we used fall honey)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup chicken stock (you could use vegetable stock or even water)
1 teaspoon corn starch
1/2-1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (or 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce)
Cooked rice (for serving)

Heat canola oil in the pan over high heat.  Add onions and stir until they begin to separate.  Add garlic and toss to coat, cooking for a minute or so.  Add about 1 teaspoon sesame oil.   Add remaining vegetables and stir fry until they brighten in color and soften a bit.  Turn heat to medium. While veggies are cooking, in a bowl, add soy sauce to honey and stir to combine well.  In another bowl, add broth to corn starch and stir well to dissolve.  Add honey soy sauce mixture to veggies and toss to fully incorporate.  Add hot pepper flakes and toss. Add broth and corn starch mixture, stirring until thickened. Add a drizzle of sesame oil.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  You may want to add some more broth or soy sauce or even a little grated fresh ginger. Serve over cooked rice.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review of Honey Cookbooks, Part I

Our collection of honey cookbooks is by no means exhaustive, yet I have to say that I have been underwhelmed by most of the honey-focused cookbooks on the market. They tend to be out of date, with recipes that don't stand up to the test of time. This post provides a quick review of some of the best honey cookbooks I've read and used so far, as well as some cookbooks that I wouldn't recommend. I have a list of additional books on the way and I'll review those in a later post. If you know of other honey-based cookbooks, please post a comment here with your review!

Joanne Barrett (1981) Cooking with Honey (North Adams: MA: Storybook Publishing). At only 32 pages, this is more of a booklet than a book, but it includes some unique honey-based recipes (like honey root beer). Barrett is a beekeeper and owns an orchard. When she began keeping bees, she set a goal to get rid of all process sugar in her cooking. The emphasis is on sweet dishes and some miss the mark, but the book usually goes for less than $5 and certainly worth the price.

Jane Charlton and Jane Newdick (1995) A Taste of Honey: Honey for Health, Beauty and Cooking (Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books). This is by far the best cookbook in our collection. It's gorgeously illustrated and written, and includes a variety of recipes, some of which are quite inventive (individual honey souffles or lavender honey cheesecake, anyone?). The photographs are fascinating, the history compelling and the recipes inspiring. The one catch is that I think it's out of print, though used copies are available from sellers on-line for less than $10.

Kim Flottum (2009) The Backyard Beekeeper's Honey Handbook. (Beverly, MA: Quarry Books). As the title suggests, this book is written for backyard beekeepers, so much of the information is aimed at helping small scale beekeepers treat their honey with care and respect. Flottum is the editor of Bee Culture magazine and is an authoritative honey (and bee) booster. He's not a professional chef or recipe developer, though, so this may not be that helpful for non-beekeeping honey aficionados. Like his other book, The Backyard Beekeeper, Flottum offers a nice collection of recipes at the end of the book. These include recipes for spring lamb roast and spaghetti sauce. It's in print and available for less than $20.

Dorothy Mech (1994) Joy with Honey (NY: St. Martin's Press) Written by a beekeeper in Washington State, this is one of the most comprehensive honey cookbooks I've found, yet the recipes often have been disappointing. They seem to reflect a 1990's "health-food" approach and the results tend to taste like food that is good for you, but not very tasty, alas!

Joe Parkhill (1983) The Wonderful World of Honey: A Sugarless Cookbook AND (with Sandi Knode) (1989) Honey: God's Gift for Health and Beauty (Berryville, AR: County Bazaar Publishing). These books give you the impression that Parkhill is not only a big believer in the health benefits of honey, he's also a big believer in himself! The "about the author" note in the books proclaims that he received a "honeyologist degree" from the National Preventive Medicine Foundation. The books read like a community cookbook and it's not always clear that the recipes have been tested. Chapters include recipes for beauty and healing as well as drinks, meats and other dishes.

In a future post, I'll review Gene Opton's Honey: A Connoisseur's Guide with Recipes, Jenni Fleetwood's Honey, and May R. Berenbaum's Honey, I'm Homemade: Sweet Treats from the Beehive across the Centuries and around the World.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Red-skin Potato Salad with Bacon-Honey Dill Dressing

This is take-off on warm German potato salad.  You could substitute arugula for the watercress.  You could also skip the watercress and turn this into a spinach/potato/bacon salad. Yum!

1-1/2 lbs. small red new potatoes
4 strips bacon
1 medium onion, diced
6 Tablespoons honey—summer honey is fantastic!
6 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon water
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1 Tablespoon dried dill
1 bunch watercress, washed and chopped
In large pot, boil whole potatoes in salted water until tender but firm. Drain and cool. While potatoes are cooling, sauté bacon until crisp in large frying pan. Remove bacon and set aside. Add onion to bacon drippings; cooking until soft, about 3 minutes. Add honey and vinegar to pan; stir to combine and bring to a boil. Blend cornstarch with water; stir into honey mixture. Cook until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Crumble bacon; stir bacon and dill into dressing. Cut cooled potatoes in half, leaving skins on. In large bowl, combine potatoes and watercress. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently. Serve immediately. 
Serves 6.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sorting out honey terms

Varietal Honey? Raw Honey? Organic Honey?
A growing interest in locally produced honey and honey's many benefits has also prompted a dizzying array of terms for various types of honey.  Since there is no honey standard in the United States, the definition of these terms is very much up for grabs right now.   When sorting out terms for honey, keep in mind that bees can travel up to 3 miles from their colonies to collect nectar and pollen.  This can make it very difficult to determine the specific nectar sources the bees are visiting.  At the market, we're often asked about varietal honey, raw honey and organic honey.  Here's how we define these terms:

Varietal honey:  Bees that are placed in midst of large tracts of a particular plant (like lavender fields in France or orange orchards in Florida) can reliably be expected to bring back nectar from that one source and can therefore be labeled a varietal honey like “orange blossom” or “lavender.”   At our apiary, we can usually pinpoint the time of year that the bees gathered a particular nectar and can therefore label our honey seasonally, though we can't specify a particular bloom visited exclusively by our bees.  

Raw honey: Some consider “raw honey” to be unstrained honey, which means that the beeswax (and bee parts) have not been strained out of the liquid honey. This results in quickly-crystallizing honey with lots of extra bits in it.  We strain our honey, but we don’t filter or heat it and for that reason, consider it to be “raw.”

Organic honey:  A 2008 survey by the Seattle PI found that much of the honey labeled as “organic” in grocery stores is marketing hype.  It's very difficult to keep bees from visiting nectar sources that are not kept organically, so unless they're on an island or surrounded by acres of organic farms, beekeepers cannot easily promise a fully “organic”  product, even if they themselves do not use any chemicals in their beekeeping.  Even a “USDA organic” sticker on a honey jar doesn’t tell you much, since right now, there are no organic standards for honey.  What can you do?  Buy honey from a local beekeeper who you know and can talk with about their practices!

Friday, March 11, 2011

100% Honey-Sweetened Cornmeal Muffins for a Snow Storm

Okay, so it's not spring yet! These all-honey cornmeal muffins come together quickly and will warm up your kitchen while the snow is still falling.  Most cornbread recipes that call for honey still use some sugar for sweetening but these--these are 100% honey-sweetened corn muffins!  They're not too sweet, though, and they'd be great with a spicy chili or other hearty soup.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. F.
1 cup yellow corn meal (fine or medium ground)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk (skim or low-fat is fine)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
Grease a 12-cup muffin tin (or line with paper cupcake cups). Be sure to grease the top of the tin, too, because these muffins rise and spread.  Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In another bowl, beat eggs, then add the milk, melted butter and honey.  Stir well until honey and eggs are fully blended with the milk and butter.  Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just moistened and there are no pockets of flour.  Fill muffin tins 3/4ths full.  Bake muffins for 15-20 minutes, or until center springs back when lightly touched. 
Makes 12  muffins

Bees Herald Spring's Arrival!

One of the most enchanting benefits of beekeeping (and there are many!) is that during these last bleak days of winter, the bees have already begun to herald spring's arrival. Though the trees still look bare to me, busy honeybee foragers have already started to bring pollen home. Just a few days ago, when the temperatures edged over 40 degrees, bees headed out to the red maple and other tree blossoms that are barely visible from the ground.  

Amazingly, during January's bitter cold, the honeybee queen knows that it is time to start laying eggs to build the colony's numbers in preparation for spring's glorious blooms.  The eggs quickly hatch into larvae--the colony's eating machines.   As the days get warmer, worker bees head out to find pollen and nectar to feed their growing brood.  Though it may still  seem a lot like winter, spring is coming!  Indeed, for the bees, spring has arrived!