Monday, June 25, 2012

Beet & Beet-Greens Salad

We have an amazing crop of beets this year, one of my favorite vegetables from the garden.  An old friend is coming to visit today and I wanted to make something special with the beets for lunch.  I'm ashamed to say that I often compost the beet greens, favoring the sweet beet root--I could eat them every day.  A recipe by David Tanis in last Wednesday's New York Times inspired me to use the beet greens in this dish.  I hew pretty close to the recipe--with the addition of honey, of course!  This dish will use up a few bowls and took me about 40 minutes to make.  It was worth it, though!

Beet & Beet-Green Salad

makes about 4 to 6 servings

2 pounds medium beets in skin, well washed 
12 to 16 ounces beet greens (or chard or other greens)
2-4 tablespoons olive oil (doesn't have to be extra virgin)
kosher salt
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
(If you don't have coriander and cumin seeds in your spice cupboard, then used ground cumin and, if you'd like, some cilantro--the flavor will be a bit different.)

1/3 cup red onion or shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon toasted cumin-coriander mixture
Pinch cayenne
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup full-fat plain yogurt
1 garlic clove, finely grated
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon toasted cumin-coriander mixture
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly snipped dill for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Trim the tops off the beets and scrub them well.  Line a baking dish (or cookie sheet with sides) with a large enough piece of tinfoil that will be able to enclose the beets completely.  Pour about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on the foil, add the beets so that they are in one layer.  Sprinkle 1-2 more tablespoons of olive oil on top and toss the beets so they are thoroughly coated in oil.  Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon kosher salt on top.  Completely enclose the beets in the aluminium foil and roast in the oven about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on how big those beets are).  Remove from oven and let them sit to steam and then cool a bit while you work on the rest of the dish.  them in a baking dish in one layer (if some beets are larger, halve them so they will cook evenly). When the beets are cool, open up the foil and slip off the skins--the skins should slip off easily if the beets are fully cooked. Cut into wedges.

Chop the beet greens into ribbons and then wash very well.  Add the greens to the pot of boiling salted water and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain, cool under running water, then squeeze out excess water.

In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the coriander and cumin seeds until fragrant and just lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Grind to a coarse powder. 

Put the onion, garlic and vinegar in a small bowl and leave for 5 minutes or so, then whisk in the remaining ingredients.

Put the yogurt in small bowl. Add the garlic, honey, salt and pepper, cayenne, cumin-coriander mixture, mint and olive oil.

Season the beet wedges lightly with salt and dress with half the vinaigrette. In a separate bowl, lightly salt the greens and dress with remaining vinaigrette. Arrange dressed beets and greens on a platter and top with a little smear of the yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with dill, and pass the rest of the yogurt sauce at the table. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Robert, Dean & Ray Extract a Beehive from a Tree!

We got a call from Ray in Crescent Township who discovered a feral beehive in a dead tree he was sawing down for firewood. Robert and Dean swarmed (!) into action to extract the colony from the tree and give it a good home. 

The small cavity in the tree  where the colony took up residence
Sawing through the log to get easier access to the colony.
Bees aren't fond of loud noises or vibrations, so this was likely a bit upsetting for them,
yet surprisingly, no one got stung!

A bit blurry, but still interesting!
This is a photo of capped brood in the honeycomb the bees built in the tree cavity.  Capped brood are young bees in the pupa stage.  To successfully extract the colony from the tree, Robert and Dean want to get as much
of this capped brood as they can, since soon they will be the workforce that helps the colony survive.

Great photo of the honeycomb layers the bees built for their colony.  Robert says that the colony
was "quite convoluted and in a rather small space."

The lighter honeycomb pieces above are newer comb that the bees just built this year.
On the darker comb, you can clearly see the capped brood (the cells that are "capped" with beeswax).
The lighter comb also has capped brood--it's just a bit harder to see. On the top piece of lighter honeycomb,
you can also see the nectar the bees began storing.  It's in the open cells on the left.
(HEY! is that my good bread knife???)

Dean is taking the honeycomb with the capped brood and using rubber bands to hold it in  an empty frame.
The hope is that the bees will begin to attach the comb to the frame with beeswax
and settle into their new home at the Spring Street Farm in Aliquippa.
We'll report back in a few weeks and let you know how they're doing!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Portrait of an Urban Beekeeper Documentary Needs Support!

Filmmaker Steve Ellington and Masterbeekeper Steve Repasky are teaming up for a documentary entitled "Portrait of an Urban Beekeeper" about urban beekeeping and seeking support for the project on Kickstarter.  Time is of the essence--they need $1250 in pledges by Monday, July 2nd--only a few days to go!  As of today, they're up to $1070, so they're close.  Be sure to check out the updates, which include a short clip of Steve Repasky's bees making "built in" comb honey in mason jars--ingenious and very cool!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Granola Bars--great for road trips!

The breathtaking Badlands
Robert and I just returned from a hiking trip around the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota (and the stark but mesmerizing Badlands).  These granola bars went along for the ride and provided some chewy sustenance on the ol' trail.  The original recipe comes from Alton Brown, with just a few tweaks. These are very sturdy and chewy granola bars, so it helps to cut them into small bites to get your teeth around them.  By the end of the week-long trip, the last few had been jostled into granola crumble, but they held up surprisingly well on the trail!

Granola Bars
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup sliced, raw almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup flax meal (or wheat germ)
1/2 cup honey (I used summer honey)
1/8 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup chopped dried fruit (I used a combination of apricots and cranberries)

Oil an 8x8 baking dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the oats, almonds, coconut and flaxmeal on a cookie sheet and toast for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Combine the honey and brown sugar, butter, vanilla and salt in a sauce pan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Remove the oats et al.  from the oven and reduce temperature to 300 degrees.  Place oats et al. in a bowl and immediately add the honey mixture along with the dried fruit.  Toss to combine very well.  Pour mixture into the oiled baking dish, and use a cup to press it firmly and evenly down.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Cool completely and cut into 1-inch bars. 

Buffalo at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
From the top of Rankin Ridge Trail,
Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Curry & Honey Nut Butter Sauce for Spicy Cold Salads

A few days ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a recipe by Scott Jurek for Indonesian Cabbage Salad with Red Curry Almond Sauce and this is my take on that recipe--with honey added, of course!  The Curry Nutbutter Sauce makes a great cabbage salad (photo above) as well as a sauce for cold noodles.  Try this instead of coleslaw or pasta salad for your 4th of July picnic! The curry sauce makes it a spicy dish--but not too spicy--and it is both a refreshing and "meaty" with lots of umami.

Curry & Honey Nut Butter Sauce 
Makes about 1 1/4 cups of sauce
1 clove garlic, minced, and soaked for 5-10 minutes in 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup almond butter (or peanut butter or cashew butter)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
2-3 tablespoons honey (I used summer honey)
2 teaspoons green curry paste (if you don't have green or red curry paste, substitute 1-2 teaspoons of hot pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

While the minced garlic is soaking, in a small bowl, stir the water into the nut butter and blend well.  Add the remaining ingredients (including the water that the garlic soaked in) and stir to combine well.  The sauce will be a bit soupy.

Spicy Cabbage Salad
serves 6-8 as a side dish
1/2 head of cabbage (medium-sized), coarsely shredded
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2-inch long pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 to 3/4ths cup Curry & Honey Nut Butter Sauce (recipe above)

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and let sit for about 20 minutes for the flavors to meld.  Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Variations: you can play around with the vegetables for this dish.  Try adding cucumber instead of (or in addition to) the bell pepper.  The Post-Gazette recipe included sliced bok choy, which would be another nice addition.  Try adding some fresh (or thawed frozen) peas.

Spicy Cold Noodle Salad
serves 2 for lunch
1/2 pound linguini, cooked according to package directions and rinsed with cold water
1/2 cup cucumber, julienned
1/2 cup red bell pepper, julienned
1/2 to 3/4ths cup Curry & Honey Nut Butter Sauce
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds (or chopped peanuts)
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Toss the noodles, cucumber, red pepper together to mix.  Pour the Curry & Honey Nut Butter sauce on top and mix well.  Toss in the sunflower seeds and fresh mint and toss again.  Place in two bowls and top each with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil.  Serve!

Monday, June 18, 2012


Summer 2012 is proving to be an amazing one for berries.  Our raspberry patch is coming in fast and furious along with the blackcap berries that are ripening along the hillside. They made for a delicious lunch today.  Just a drizzle of honey and some yogurt rounded out the dish.  Robert added some whipped cream to his, which was a bit like gilding the lily in my opinion.  

Blueberries aren't quite ready, but we still have a few pints of frozen blues from last year that made a perfect pie for dessert.  I had to act fast to get this photo before the last piece of pie was devoured. This would be the place for some whipped cream if you have it.

The ground tapioca in this pie makes it sturdy and not at all soupy.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

For the all-butter pie crust:
1 and 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons), cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in the freezer while you gather the rest of the ingredients.
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/3 cup ice water
Briefly (about 5 seconds) pulse the flour, salt and very cold butter in a food processor until the butter is pea-sized. Sprinkle water on top and briefly pulse again to evenly distribute it. The dough will be in loose pellets. Pour onto a lightly floured surface and knead it three or four times to bring it together. Form into a flat disk. Roll out to about 16 or 17 inches (1/4th inch thick). Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, letting dough hang over the edge (this overhang will be folded over the filling to form the top crust).

For the blueberry pie
4 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup summer (or spring) honey
1/4 cup tapioca pudding, ground into a powder in a coffee grinder or blender
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (or nutmeg)--optional
2 tablespoons butter

Combine the berries, honey, tapioca and spice if using in a bowl and mix gently but well.  Place the berries in the prepared crust. Dot with the two tablespoons of butter.  Fold the overhanging crust over the berries, leaving a vent hole in the center. You can lightly brush the crust with milk or water and sprinkle some sugar on top if you'd like.

Place the pie in the preheated oven and put a cookie sheet underneath just in case there are any drips.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the filling bubbles up from the vent hole.  Cool before slicing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Polenta Stuffed Chard with Quick Honey Tomato Sauce

The inspirations for this bubbly dish of goodness came from a few sources.  The first is a recipe for polenta stuffed chard by Gretchen McKay published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  The second is a quick pasta sauce recipe in the Best Recipes Cookbook by America's Test Kitchens.  And finally, our recent honey extraction, the big leaves of Swiss chard growing in the garden, and the bumper crop of garlic scapes inspired me to fiddle with both of these recipes.  Though the dish requires a few steps and a little advanced planning (the polenta needs some time to set up), it's not that complicated--and it's delicious!

Truth be told:  you could make this dish with any nice tomato sauce recipe you have--you don't need to have a drop of honey in the house (or garlic scapes for that matter; just substitute some minced garlic cloves).  But this is a blog about cooking with honey, so there's honey in this dish!

For the polenta:
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth, or even water if you'd prefer--though you may need a bit more salt)
1 cup of polenta (or coarsely ground corn meal)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
pinch of salt

Lightly oil a 4x10 glass dish (or 8x8).  Bring the broth (or water) to a rolling boil in a sauce pan.  Slowly whisk in the polenta, stirring constantly. Lower the heat so that the polenta barely plops an occasional bubble. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to be sure the polenta does not stick to the bottom of the pan.  When the polenta is very thick, remove from the heat, stir in the butter and the Parmesan, blending well.  Pour the polenta into the prepared glass dish and cool for at least 15 minutes.  Place in the refrigerator to set up for about 30 minutes.  If you're making the polenta well in advance, cover it. It can sit overnight.  When ready to make the rolls, cut the polenta into 12 pieces, about 2x3 inches.

While the polenta is setting up, make the tomato sauce:

For the honey tomato sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 garlic scapes (about 4 inches long), chopped
1 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, chopped
1/8 cup honey
1 tablespoon vodka
4-6 good sized basil leaves, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
salt to taste.

Heat a frying pan over medium high heat and add the olive oil, letting it heat for about 30 seconds or so.  Add the minced garlic scapes with a pinch of salt and saute for about 1-2 minutes, being careful not to let the scapes brown.

Add the tomatoes, stirring to distribute and bring them to a gentle simmer.  Cook for about 10 minutes so that they become thick and reduce a bit.

Stir in the honey, vodka and basil and cook for a few minutes more then remove from heat.  Taste and check seasoning, adding some salt and pepper (and if you'd like, red pepper flakes).

Prepare the Swiss Chard: 
You'll need 12 large Swiss chard leaves. Wash the leaves and cut the thickest part of the stem out, trying to keep them intact if you can. Put the leaves in a bowl and pour boiling water over to wilt them.  Let them sit in the water for about 6 minutes and then drain in a colander.

For the rolls:
12 wilted Swiss chard leaves (see above)
12 pieces of polenta, about 2x3 inches long
6 1/2 inch slices of mozzarella cheese, cut in half
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Quick Honey Tomato Sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cover the bottom of an 9x13 glass baking dish with some of the Quick Honey Tomato Sauce. (I used two 8x8 glass dishes.)

Place a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) on the counter and put one wilted Swiss chard leaf on the towel, blotting it a bit to sop up any water that's clinging.  Place one piece of polenta on the edge of the leaves and top with one piece of mozzarella.  Top with about a tablespoon or so of sauce.  

Fold the leaf over the polenta and cheese like you're making a burrito: fold the side closest to you up first then fold over the two edges.  Roll until the leaf fully covers the polenta, cheese and sauce.

Place the roll in the prepared pan and continue making the rest of the rolls until you fill the pan.  Top the rolls with the remaining tomato sauce then top it all with Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes until the dish is hot and bubbly. Let sit for about 10 minutes to cool then serve.  This recipe makes 12 rolls, or enough for 6 people (without seconds!). 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Spring 2012 Extraction

We had a honey extracting extravaganza on Sunday!  Thanks so much to everyone who came out to help: Dean, Danielle, Elizabeth, Kim and Steve!   Dean is tending three colonies at the Spring Street Farm in Aliquippa, which part of the amazing efforts of the Uncommon Grounds Cafe (Dean's on Facebook, too--look for "Spring Street Farm.").  Danielle and interns Elizabeth and Kim tend seven colonies now (after their successful splits this spring!) at Churchview Farms.  And Steve, a state wildlife biologist,  is one of our area's few Master Beekeepers and Burgh Bees's indefatigable Apiary Director.  Steve also sells his honey on the last Saturday of the month at the Sewickley Farmers' Market. Check out their work:
Beautiful fully capped frame of spring honey
Dean & Robert using uncapping knives
to remove the wax caps from the honey
Danielle showing lovely uncapping technique!

An uncapped frame of honey ready for the extractor

The uncapped frames are loaded into the extractor.
This is a motorized radial extractor, which spins
the honey out of the comb.
Honey pouring out of the extractor and
into a strainer placed over a bucket.

Freshly extracted honey!

When all's done, there's still lots of honey
at the bottom of the extractor.
It will slowly drain into a bucket.

Spring honey bottled and ready to enjoy!