Sunday, December 30, 2012

Soup and Muffins for a Snowy Day

I've been a shamefully neglectful blogger lately--I can barely lay claim to the title! But with this post, I can at least claim to have made a post every month in 2012.  Do I get a prize?  I do!  Some delicious curried butternut squash lentil soup and fluffy peanut butter muffins!  

Curried Butternut Squash & Red Lentil Soup
The inspiration for this recipe comes from a blog called Yummy Mummy Kitchen. I made just a few changes to the recipe--including using butternut squash puree instead of pumpkin.  We're still working our way through a bumper crop of butternut squashes that at this rate may just last until May!

2 tablespoons olive oil (or a neutral oil if you prefer)
1 small onion, chopped
1 small apple, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons (or more, if you'd like) curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 cups red lentils
48 ounces (6 cups) vegetable broth
2 cups pureed butternut squash (or pumpkin--you could use a 15 ounce can)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk (if you don't have coconut milk, you could use regular cow's milk or almond milk or  half-and-half or even some yogurt if you'd like)

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and saute until the onion softens.  Add the apple, a few more sprinkles of salt, and saute for about five minutes more until the apple softens as well.  Stir in the curry powder and cumin and cook until they're fragrant.  Stir in the lentils, coating with oil and spices, then add the broth, squash, honey and coconut. Bring to just a boil and then turn heat down to a simmer.  Simmer soup, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or so, until lentils are soft and soup thickens.  You can add fancy toppings if you'd like:  chopped cilantro, a tablespoon or two of some more coconut milk (or yogurt).  But it's pretty good just as it is.  This makes a big pot of soup--would serve 8 easily.

Peanut Butter Muffins
I expected the peanut butter to make these muffins heavy, but they're the lightest muffins I've ever made.  The original recipe comes from another blog, A Pinch of Yum, though I made a few changes to it as well.  The most significant is adding some baking soda to the batter to counteract the acidity of the honey.  I think that's what made them so light and fluffy.  I love that this recipe makes only 6 muffins.  It could easily be doubled, though!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup milk (could use almond or soy milk; I used skim)

Grease a 6-cup muffin tin and set aside. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, soda and salt.  In a smaller bowl, stir the peanut butter, oil and honey together until well blended.  Slowly add the milk to the peanut butter mixture and stir well until thoroughly combined.  Add the milk/peanut butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine using as few strokes as you can--you want the batter to be mixed together, but it's okay if there a few lumps.  Spoon the batter into the greased muffin tin and put in the oven, checking after 10 minutes--but will likely take 15 minutes for the tops to be dry and springy (and a toothpick inserted in the middle to come out clean).  Makes 6 muffins.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Butternut Squash Rolls for Thanksgiving

We had a bumper crop of butternut squash this year, which we didn't even plan.  A few volunteer plants popped up and then quickly had their way with a corner of our garden.  Luckily they keep well and are a great substitute for any dish that calls for pumpkin (with exception, perhaps, of pumpkin pie).  Mashed butternut squash is a lovely (literally!) addition to these rolls, turning them into sunny little saffron-hued pillows.  You won't taste the butternut squash in them, though I think it does add a bit of depth to the flavor.  You can, of course, substitute pumpkin or any winter squash for the butternut here.

They are adapted from a recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit Nov. 1996.

These rolls can be made ahead, cooled completely, wrapped in foil and frozen until the day you need them.  Take them out of the freezer and thaw for several hours, then heat them, covered, in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Butternut Squash Rolls
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup cooked, mashed butternut squash*

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 packet quick-rising yeast
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 more tablespoons of butter, melted

Place the milk, butter and honey in a sauce pan and heat, stirring until the butter melts.  Whisk in the mashed butternut squash, stirring well.  Remove the liquid from the heat and let it cool for about 5 minutes (it should register between 125 and 135 degrees).

While milk is cooling, pulse the flour, yeast and salt in a food processor, combining well.  Put the milk mixture into a measuring cup (or pitcher) and, with the processor on, pour it into the flour mixture.  The dough will form a ball.  Process for about 45 seconds after that to give it a good kneading.

Butter a large bowl and put the dough in it.  Cover it and place it in a warm draft-free spot to rise for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled.  Butter two 9-inch cake pans.  When the dough has risen, turn it on to a lightly floured board and divide into 24 pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball and place them in the cake pans, not touching. Brush with 1/3 of the melted butter.  Cover and let rise again for about 20 minutes until doubled.  (The rolls won't be touching each other at the end of this second rising--but they will plump up in the oven!)

While the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 375.  When they're ready, brush again with another 1/3 of the melted butter and place in the center of oven, baking for about 25 minutes.  You'll want to turn the pans halfway through to be sure they brown evenly.  Remove from the oven when they are nicely browned and brush again with the final 1/3 of the melted butter.  Makes 24 rolls.

*Bonus Recipe!  Whole Roasted Butternut Squash.  This is as simple as it can be.  Instead of cutting the squash in half and roasting, or slicing off the tough skin and steaming or boiling the squash to make a mash, you can just put the whole squash in the oven and roast it until it's done.  Here's how:  wash the squash if it has dirt clinging to it from the garden, dry it off and place on a lightly greased pan, cookie sheet or even a sheet of aluminum foil.  (You want something to catch any sugary drips that might sneak out while it's roasting.)   A large (3-4 pound) squash will take about 90 minutes to roast.  Smaller squash will take less time.  It's ready when a knife pierces easily all the way through the flesh. When it's cool enough to handle, you can easily peel off the skin and mash the squash for whatever you want to use it for.  When I roast a whole squash, I usually just compost the bulbous seeded end rather than try to scoop out the seeds, since the flesh is so soft, and that gets a bit tedious.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Honey Pickled Carrots

Both of my grandmothers were big proponents of relish trays on holiday tables.  When I was little, I would make a meal out of the sweet gherkin pickles and black olives that my Grandma Davis always had out.  I continue the tradition at our holiday table and this year I'm adding these lovely carrot pickles.  They are adapted from a recipe in the November 14, 2012 New York Times by David Tanis with a few changes.  I swapped the sugar in the recipe for honey, of course. Since honey is sweeter than sugar, I substituted 1/3 cup honey for the 1/2 cup of sugar.  And instead of making carrot slices, I just used a bag of baby carrots.  I also skipped the 6 dried red peppers Tanis's recipe calls for since my family isn't big on spicy foods.  These pickles are great without the heat, though next time I make them, I think I'll include that touch of zing.  My amazing great nephews, Samson (3) and Bohdan (not-yet-1) will be joining us for Thanksgiving this year and I'm hoping that they, too, will come to carry on the holiday relish plate tradition!

Honey Pickled Carrots
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 cloves
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
3 large garlic cloves, each cut in half
1 pound "baby" carrots

In a non-reactive (stainless steel) pot, combine the vinegar, honey, salt, cloves, bay leaf, caraway, coriander and garlic cloves.  Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a steady simmer and add the carrots.  Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes--you want the carrots to still be firm and slightly crunchy, but not raw.  Remove the carrots and spread out on a cookie sheet to cool.  Let the brine come to room temperature.  Put the carrots in a glass container and pour the brine over them.  There may be a bit left over. If so, be sure to scoop out any spices that might be at the bottom and add them to the jar.  Let the carrots marinate for at least 8 hours, refrigerated.  They can be made well in advance--up to four days.

Stay tuned for another make-ahead Thanksgiving dish:  delightful butternut squash rolls!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Delicious Honey Cranberry Pinwheels

Although it's Halloween, there is nothing scary about these cookies, folks!  In fact, a case could be made that these cookies are actually good for you (well...perhaps we should say that they're not as bad for you).  The dough includes whole wheat flour and canola oil and, according to the recipe makers, they clock in at only about 54 calories a cookie.  The recipe comes from the Eating Well website where it has received rave reviews.  I see why--they're tasty and chewy and they make a nice impression.  Robert gives them his thumbs up!  They were also well-received at the Friends of the B.F. Jones Memorial Library annual wine and cheese fundraiser last Saturday. :)

This makes a very soft dough especially for rolling, yet the canola oil makes the dough less sticky than you'd expect.  Refrigerating the dough also makes it more manageable. Don't let the long list of ingredients deter you.  The recipe isn't that complicated to make.

Honey Cranberry Pinwheels

1 1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (could use orange zest)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom (or allspice)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom (or allspice if you used it in the filling)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons low fat milk
2 1/2 teaspoons lemon (or orange) zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

For filling:  Combine all of the ingredients in a non-reactive* pan over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil.  Let boil about five minutes until the fresh cranberries pop and soften.  Remove from heat and cool.  Place in a food processor and process the filling until finely ground. Place in refrigerator while you make the dough.

For dough:  Whisk the flours, baking powder, salt, baking soda and spices in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, honey, eggs, milk, zest and extracts and beat well.  Stir in half of the flour mixture to incorporate then add the other half. (If you're using a mixture, switch to a wooden spoon when you add the second flour portion.)  Stir to thorough combine, but don't over-mix.  Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to make the dough easier to work with.

To form the cookies:  Take 1/2 of the chilled dough and place between two sheets of waxed paper (about 12 x 18 inches long).  Roll out dough into a 12x15 inch rectangle.  Place the rolled out dough in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.  This will make it easier to spread the filling on the dough.  Remove top sheet of waxed paper and spread 1/2 of the cranberry filling over the dough--it will be thin (I used my hands to get the filling to the edges.  With the long end parallel to the counter, use the waxed paper the dough is resting on to help you roll the dough into a tight, round log.  Place the log on a clean sheet of waxed paper, roll it up and twist the ends to make the log as tight as possible.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for at least four hours (and up to three months**).  Repeat with the other half of the dough and filling.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Unwrap the roll and, using a long serrated knife, slice the cookies into 1/4 inch wide slices, turning the log as you slice to keep the cookies as round as possible.  Place the slices on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.  

Makes about 90 cookies.

*Non-reactive pans are stainless steel or enamel--not aluminum (or copper!)
**If you're freezing for an extended time, don't defrost before slicing the cookies.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Honey Chocolate Shortbread Ribbons

I'm still in the midst of my cookie baking extravaganza here.  The recipe for these honey chocolate shortbread ribbons is from the National Honey Board, where I get a lot of great recipe ideas.  I have to confess that these aren't Robert's favorite.  The recipe calls for orange peel, which adds a tang to the dough that Robert isn't that fond of (he ate a few of 'em though!).  You could skip the peel if you'd prefer.  In that case, I might be tempted to add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the dough, just to kick up the flavor a bit.

Honey Chocolate Shortbread Ribbons
1 cup butter, softened
2/3rd cup  honey
1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Cream the butter and gradually drizzle in the honey, beating until light and fluffy.  Add the orange peel and beat to incorporate thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt and baking powder and then stir into the honey-butter mixture, combining well.  Remove about 1/3 of the dough to another bowl and add the melted chocolate to it, combining well.

Line one 9 inch square pan and one 9x5 inch loaf pan with waxed paper, letting the paper hang out of the sides so that you'll be able to lift the dough out once it hardens. Flatten the chocolate mixture into the loaf pan and the remaining dough into the square pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Remove the dough from the 9 inch pan and cut in half.  Place the chocolate dough in the middle of the two halves and press lightly but to be sure the layers hold together.  With a large, sharp knife, cut the block lengthwise to make two logs.  Wrap each with wax paper and then with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least four hours (or freeze up to three months).

Preheat oven to 375.  Slice the logs about 1/8th to 1/4th inches wide and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Bake for about 7 to 8 minutes until lightly browned.  Makes about four dozen cookies.

And stay tuned!  The recipe for Robert's favorite honey cranberry pinwheel cookies coming soon!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Honey Almond Rugelach

Though I haven't been posting much on the blog recently, get ready for a run of cookie recipes!  The Friends of the B.F. Jones Memorial Library annual wine and cheese is Saturday, October 27 and I've been making a bunch of cookies in preparation.  These almond rugelach cookies are classic--not too sweet--and the hint of honey in the filling really comes through.  They're one of my favorite cookies to make.  This recipe comes from a small cookbook published by the National Honey Board in 1994 called Sweetened with Honey the Natural Way. The recipe is also available on the National Honey Board's website--click on the link.

And stay tuned!  Recipes for shortbread-like honey chocolate ribbons and some delicious cranberry pinwheels will appear in future posts!

Honey Almond Rugelach
1 cup butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 tablespoons honey, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries, chopped (I used cherries)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cream butter and cream cheese until fluffy.  Add three tablespoons of honey and mix well. Add the flour, stirring until the dough comes together.  Form into a disk, wrap well and refrigerate for at least two hours.

In a small bowl, combine the almonds and chopped cherries. Drizzle about 3 tablespoons of honey over them and mix well.

Divide the dough into fourths and roll one piece into about a 9-inch circle.  Combine two tablespoons of honey and the lemon and mix well.  Brush the dough with the honey-lemon mixture.  Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon over the surface. Spread about 1/4 of the almond/cherry mixture over the surface.  Cut the circle into 8 wedges.  Starting with the wide end, roll up each wedge and then curve the cookie to make a crescent shape.  Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.  Repeat with remaining dough.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

You can freeze these cookies unbaked.  Thaw them out before baking.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Chewy Pecan Honey Cookies

We've been major blog slackers here at SteffesWood Apiary.  Teaching and flying are occupying us a lot these days.  I had a chance to make these delicious cookies last weekend, though.  I'm testing out cookie recipes for the annual Friends of the B.F. Jones Library wine and cheese fundraiser on October 27.  The fundraiser always includes an elaborate and delicious cookie table and I wanted find some honey-based cookies to add to the offerings.  These are a keeper.  They're chewy, have a lot of great honey flavor and a nice little crunch from the pecans. I wasn't so sure about the recipe at first because it doesn't include any eggs--but these are delicious and have a wonderful texture.  I highly recommend them!

Chewy Pecan Honey Cookies
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the honey and cream well. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until just combined, finishing by hand if needed, trying not to over mix.  Stir in the pecans.

Using about one teaspoon, form the dough into balls and place on the prepared cookie sheets. (You can chill the dough for about 10 minutes if it's very soft--don't chill for much longer, though, since the honey will harden making it hard to form into balls.)  Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until edges are golden brown and set.  Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Brewing "The White House Honey Ale"

Beekeeping got a big bump after the Obamas installed beehives at the White House a couple years ago.  Recently word got out that the President had purchased beer making equipment and instructed his chefs to brew up ales incorporating honey.  The clamor from the wonky home brewing community for the recipes actually made national news.  Bowing to the "pressure," the White House staff posted a video and two recipes on their website.

As the resident brewer here at SteffesWood Apiary, I was assigned to test the Executive Branch's effort.  The Honey Ale is roughly equivalent to a British ESB (Extra Special Bitter), a full bodied amber beer with a 7% alcohol content.

New to brewing?  If you can make soup, you can brew beer, though you'll obviously require some specialized equipment that will run you $100-150.  A good tutorial on basic technique can be found at How to Brew.  Beginner's kits and ingredients can be purchased in the Pittsburgh area at one of South Hills Brewing's locations.  There are plenty of on-line sources available as well, including Northern Brewer Home Brew Supply, which has already put together an ingredients kit.
Here is the recipe from the White House website:

And here is how I brewed it:
All the ingredients
1.  A 3 gallon pot is MINIMUM. Bigger is better.  Boil overs are common if you are not careful. You don't need to use "sterile water" as the heat will do that. If you like the taste of your tap water, use that or bottled spring water. The crushed grains are steeped in a grain or hops bag.just like tea.  They add color and flavor but be careful not to overheat, steep too long or squeeze the bag dry.  Doing so can impart an unpleasant astringency from the tannins in the hulls.  Just like tea!
2.  Malt extract in both its forms is used.  You can add both now or just the dry stuff and add the liquid 15 minutes before the end of the boil.  Be careful to stir the liquid extract enough when added to put it in solution or it will burn on the bottom.
Steeping the grains
3.  The Kent Goldings hops are added when the boil starts. 45 minutes is the minimum time for the hops to give the brew (called "wort" at this stage)  enough bitterness to balance the malt.  The cooks screwed up here as they neglected to say when 1 oz. of the Fuggles hops gets added, so we're winging it already.  I added that errant ounce 10 minutes after the Goldings, figuring the ample fermentables in the recipe could use the extra balancing.  The Northern Brewer kit calls for the 1 oz. Fuggles addition at 15 minutes before the end of the boil.  The gypsum is used to harden and acidify the wort with the aim of "Burtonizing" the water.  This refers to the water used to brew Bass Ale, at Burton-on-Trent.  If your water is already hard, it is unnecessary.  I split the difference and used just 1 oz.
 A word of warning: don't let the pot out of your sight during the boil if you want to avoid a sticky mess on your stove!  Don't ask me how I know this!  Stir frequently.
plug hops (left) and leaf hops (right)
4.  The last 1/2 oz. of the Fuggles are added at the end of the boil to give the ale aroma and flavor without extra bitterness.  Note that I used leaf and plug hops in the grain/hops bag.  If you use pellets, you just leave them in the wort.
5.  I added the honey with the Fuggles as I wanted to preserve the delicate aromatics of that fine SteffesWood honey as much as possible.  My experience with brewing is that honey does not contain any microbes that will spoil the beer so it doesn't need to be sterilized.
cooling wort in ice bath

6.  You want to cool the wort as rapidly as possible down to the temp you can safely add yeast, about 80 degrees F.  I put the pot in an ice bath in the sink, then pour the cooled wort into the fermenter with enough chilled spring water to bring the volume up to 5 gallons.
pitching the yeast

7.  The recipe calls for Windsor dry yeast, a typical English ale yeast that will impart a fruity taste to the end product.  I used Safale S-04, a similar product.  All you need to do to "pitch" the yeast is make sure the wort is not too hot, sprinkle it in, close the lid (and block the airlock hole) and give the bucket a good shaking.  The yeast is aerobic and needs to have air incorporated in the wort to do its work of breaking the sugars down into CO2 and alcohol. Fit the airlock and open up a beer to celebrate all your hard work.
8.  I ferment in the basement, where the temperature is a constant 68 degrees.  Ale yeast is pretty flexible and will work well over a wide range.  
9.  You don't need to use a secondary fermenter, though I often do.  You can leave it in the same bucket for a couple weeks until there is just one bubble a minute coming out of the airlock.  If you have a hydrometer, the beer is fermented out when the final gravity is 1.020 ( the starting gravity is about 1.060)
bubbling away!
   10.  We'll pick up the narrative when it's bottling time in about two weeks, so stay tuned!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Roasted Beets with Honey & Lemon

I'm a confirmed beet lover and could eat them at every meal.  I know, though, that beets are not America's favorite veggie. An Eating Well blog includes them among the top five "most hated vegetables" in the U.S.   (What's America's most favorite vegetable?  Apparently, according to a report in Bloomburg News, it's potatoes!) 

Roasting beets is one way to persuade a confirmed beet hater to give them another try. Roasting caramelizes the sugars in the beets and makes very sweet yet they still retain their savory earthiness. I'm not promising that the beet haters in your life will convert after you serve these--but I am suggesting it's a worth a try!

Roasted Beets with Honey & Lemon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Figure on about 1 large, 2 medium or 3 small beets per person.  I usually roast extra since the oven's on and I'm happy to eat roasted beets throughout the week.  It's best if you roast similarly-sized beets in the same pan (that is, not mixing large and small beets together).  Truth be told, though, I usually throw 'em all in together when I'm short on time.

Wash the beets well and cut off their tops, leaving about 1 inch of the stalks. (This ensures the beets won't bleed too much during roasting.)  Select a roasting or baking dish that is large enough to hold all of your beets in one layer. Line it with a piece of aluminum foil that is large enough to cover the bottom of the pan AND fold over to fully envelop the beets.  Drizzle about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on the foil.  Place the beets in the pan, tossing them in the oil and drizzling more oil on them to be sure every beet is covered with olive oil.  Sprinkle kosher salt on the beets--at least a pinch for each beet.  Fold the foil over the beets, being sure to securely crimp the edges together to keep the heat inside.  The beets will roast and steam in this packet.  Place in the pre-heated oven for at least 40 and up to 60 or 65 minutes (depending on how big your beets are).  Remove from the oven and let them sit on the counter until cool enough to handle--about 20 minutes.  This extra time will enable them to cook a bit longer, too.

Remove the beets from their foil packet and slip off their skins.  Cut them into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a bowl.  I had about 2 cups of beets when all was said and done.  Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (go ahead and used bottled if that's what you have) and 2 to 3 tablespoons honey over the beets, tossing to mix thoroughly.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  You can serve them as is at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate them to serve cold later.  You can also add some fresh lemon zest to zing up the lemon flavor a bit and/or some chopped parsley to add color.  If so, add the parsley just before serving.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cherry Tomatoes in Honey Brine

As I lamented in a previous post, we lost all of our tomato plants to the destructive late blight.  I was particularly sad to say good-bye to two vibrant yellow cherry tomato plants.  We'd been enjoying these sweet-like-candy tomatoes throughout August.  This recipe for brined cherry tomatoes gave me a chance to use some of the not-quite-ripe tomatoes still left on the vines.  In fact, this recipe requires not-quite-ripe tomatoes.  Ripe tomatoes will get too mushy in the brine, but those that haven't ripened fully keep a nice crunch.  This is, admittedly, a recipe for adventuresome cooks (and eaters). It's very simple to do, but requires patience (time for the tomatoes to soak in the brine) and the result is crispy, salty, piquant pickled tomatoes--a few go a long way.  They'd be great as part of an antipasto platter, or served with cheese and crackers, or gracing the side of grilled cheese sandwich or added to a leaf lettuce salad.  Use them where ever you'd use a dill pickle.

Cherry Tomatoes in Honey Brine
1 1/4 pounds half-ripe cherry tomatoes
6 dill heads (or 2 tablespoons dill seeds and about 6 sprigs of fresh dill)
1/4 cup fresh horseradish, grated (you can used bottled horseradish instead--just be sure it's not a horseradish sauce with cream)
3 sprigs of fresh parsley
1/2 fresh hot pepper, seeded (I used a Hungarian hot) and cut in a few pieces
2 tablespoons pickling salt (or UNiodized salt)
2-3 tablespoons honey
1 quart of water

In a jar that will hold two quarts, layer the tomatoes interspersed with the herbs, horseradish and pepper pieces.  Dissolve the salt and honey in the water and pour over the tomatoes in the jar.  Be sure the tomatoes are submerged in the brine--I filled a small zipper-lock bag with some water and placed it on top of the tomatoes to keep them under the brine.  If your jar has a large opening, you could put a plate or saucer on top.  Let the tomatoes ferment in the brine, unrefrigerated, for a week.  When a week is up, cover them tightly and place in the refrigerator to develop more fully.  You can taste them throughout the process--and you might enjoy the delicate flavor they begin to develop after about a day.  They should keep in the fridge for at least a month.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sweetness and Blight: Honey Roasted Tomatoes

Slightly ripe plum tomatoes, ready for roasting
We were dismayed to head to the garden last week to find that our tomatoes were hit with the dreaded (and highly contagious) late blight, which destroyed the plants in a day. This is the pathogen that was responsible for the Irish potato famine--it affects both tomatoes and potatoes.  The spores of the pathogen, Phytopthora infestans, readily spread by wind and rain, so the plants must be destroyed immediately to be sure they don't spread the infection to a neighbor's crop. There is nothing to do but pull up the plants, burn them and cry.  Well, actually, there is one more thing to do:  roast the tomatoes that you can save.

We harvested the (mostly green) tomatoes that weren't yet infected and carted them inside to ripen as best they could.  These would not be the season's most delectable tomatoes, that's for sure.  After a week in a basket under some newspapers, the tomatoes turned rosy. To pump up their sweetness and flavor, I roasted them with honey, garlic and thyme--a simple but delicious way to deal with less-than-perfectly ripened tomatoes, and a nice alternative for processing tomatoes if you have a bumper crop.  You can honey roast any kind of tomato--plum, globe, cherry--and they make a great lunch meal with some crusty bread, a unique side dish, or can be pureed into a nice tomato sauce for pasta. The process is simple, and the results are good enough that these tasty tomatoes can even provide some solace for the heart break of late blight.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Plum tomatoes after the roast
Slice tomatoes in half (larger tomatoes can be quartered if you like) and remove the seeds. Line a cookie sheet with a lip or a roasting pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease with olive oil.   Place tomatoes in the pan, skin-side down.  It's fine to crowd the pan, but there should be only one layer of tomatoes.  Tuck unpeeled cloves of garlic in and among the tomatoes (optional but very nice, especially if you plan to make pasta sauce with this)--we like garlic, so I usually use a whole head.  Tuck sprigs of fresh thyme in and among the tomatoes and garlic. Sprinkle the tomatoes generously with olive oil and then slightly less generously with honey.  Make sure every tomato has splashes of oil and drizzles of honey.  Sprinkle about 1 or 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt all over.  Roast for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes depending on what kind of tomatoes you're roasting (cherry tomatoes will take much less time) and how caramelized you'd like them to be.  I roasted a bunch of plum tomatoes and Paul Robeson heirlooms (see photos below) for 60 minutes.  You can serve the tomatoes as is, taking care to peel the roasted garlic first, and offering lots of crusty bread on the side to sop up the juices.  Or, you can let them cool, remove the skins and whirl them and the (peeled) garlic in a blender or food processor for roasted pasta sauce.  You can also freeze the tomatoes once they cool or freeze the tomato sauce.

A NOTE ABOUT AMOUNTS:  You can roast as many or as few tomatoes as you have.  If you're roasting globe tomatoes, figure on about 1/2 per person if you're serving them as a side dish.  You might need 2 or 3 paste tomatoes (which make the best roasted tomato sauce, too) per person.  Cherry tomatoes--well, maybe 10 per person?  How hungry are you and your peeps? :)

Paul Robeson heirloom tomatoes ready for roasting

Paul Robeson heirlooms after the roast-a bit juicier than the plums!

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Matter of Convenience Art Show!

Anna E. Mikolay
Check out this Art Show, "A Matter of Convenience," at Future Tenant Art Space, 819 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (hours Thursday-Sunday, 12-4pm).

It features the work of five artists who explore the ease and convenience of the way our food is produced.  An installation of one of the artists, Anna E. Mikolay, "explores bees through the lens of observation and research including their movements, the honey they produce and their decline in recent years."  Anna visited our apiary this summer and we're looking forward to viewing her work along with the other artists!

 The opening is Friday, September 14, from 6-9pm and the show runs through October 14.  Click here for directions. 

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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PA State Beekeepers Picnic!

We spent a lovely afternoon on July 24 at Chatham University's gorgeous campus (my alma mater! Go Cougars!) for the annual Pennsylvania State Beekeepers' Association picnic, hosted by Burgh Bees and the Beaver Valley Area Beekeepers' Association.  In addition to the Apiary Products Judging Event (see below for shameless bragging about our blue ribbon!) the day included the ever-popular "just for fun" contest for foods and beverages made with honey. Debbie and John Gubanic's Pickled Beets won for the best canned product. (We entered our marbled brownies and won the "best exotic brownie" category--the, um, only brownie entered in the contest.)   When Debbie and John offered their beets and recipe to us, we greedily gobbled them up.  Here's a photo of (what's left of) the beets along with the recipe:

Debbie's Award-Winning Pickled Beets with Honey
1 bushel of beets, cleaned, root & stems trimmed, but leave some stem so that they don't bleed while boiling.
1 1/8 cup honey
3 cups water (use water beets were boiled in)
2 cups white vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Boil the beets in a large pot of water until tender (20-30 minutes).  Check with a fork and run cold water over them when done, removing skins.  Add honey and 3 cups water.  Then add the vinegar, cloves, allspice and cinnamon.  Bring all to a boil and gently simmer for 15 minutes.  Put beets and brine in sterilized jars and process in a water bath for 30 minutes.  One bushel of beets makes 40 pints and 4 quarts.

Shameless Bragging:  Our beeswax candle bowls won a blue ribbon!
We're pretty darn beeswax proud. :)