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. :)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fresh Corn Cakes with Honey

These are delicious!  They're even good the next day reheated (or not!) if any are left over.  They make a great breakfast, but are also savory enough that they work well as an alternative to corn muffins, too.  If you have some ears of sweet corn that have been sitting in the fridge for a few extra days, then give these corn cakes a try. They're fairly easy and have some big corn flavor.  There isn't any honey in the batter (though you could add a tablespoon if you'd like).  And truth be told, you could eat them with maple syrup, or slathered with peanut butter--or just on their own.  Drizzled with honey, though--well, they're divine!  The recipe is adapted from Gene Opton's (2000) Honey:  A Connoisseur's Guide With Recipes (click on the link for my review). 

Fresh Corn Cakes with Honey

4 or 5 ears of fresh sweet corn
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (or whole milk)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (if using buttermilk; skip if using whole milk)
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper

Cut the kernels from four corn cobs, place in a food processor and pulse four or five times until they're coarsely chopped with a bit of liquid.  Measure out 1 1/2 cups (adding another ear of coarsely ground kernels if needed).  In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, add the buttermilk (or milk) and butter and combine well.  In another bowl, whisk the flours, baking soda (if using buttermilk), salt and pepper.  Add to the egg/milk batter and stir just until combined.

Coat a skillet or griddle lightly with oil and heat over medium-high flame.  Measure about 1/4 cup of batter into heated pan, forming about 4 inch cakes.  Fry until golden, about 2-3 minutes.  Flip and fry on the other side until golden.  Serve with a drizzle of honey and--if you want to get fancy--creme fraiche and cilantro. Makes about 12 four-inch cakes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Got Local Honey? Get a Local Honey Dipper!

Check out these lovely honey dippers made with a variety of woods (like cherry and maple--some from local trees!). They're made by the skilled hands of Leslie Struthers at Struthers Turning Studio. (Click on the link to see more of Leslie's creations, including gorgeous spice grinders, pens and bowls.)  

The dippers are remarkably efficient at gathering a pool of honey for "precision drizzling"--and each one is unique. I bought four to test out.  At $5 each, they make wonderful gifts, especially when paired with a jar of local honey.   The dipper made it easy to add a drizzle of honey to the cold beet and potato soup I made a few days ago. 



Robert went crazy planting potatoes this spring. He set them up in some old bee boxes, which have made it easy to keep filling with dirt and mulch to provide lots of room for the potatoes to grow.  

Paired with our bumper beet crop, the potatoes make a creamy cold soup that is refreshing on a hot day and brilliantly purple.  The recipe, which Bob Batz Jr. wrote about a few weeks ago in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, comes from Jeff Koehler's new cookbook, Morocco:  A Culinary Journey. It can be served hot or cold.


1 1/2 pounds medium beets, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 pounds medium white potatoes, peeled and quartered
salt and freshly ground black pepper
scant 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
1-2 tablespoons honey for drizzling (optional)

Place the beets and potatoes in a saucepan with 5 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and cook until the beets and potatoes are soft but not falling apart--about 30 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.  In batches, puree the soup in a blender (the original recipe calls for a food processor, but I think a blender makes for a smoother soup).  Blend until completely smooth.  Stir in the ginger, and if using, the butter.  Stir until the butter melts in and is thoroughly combined. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.  If serving cold, then let the soup cool a bit on the counter then place in refrigerator for at least two hours.  If serving hot, then return to the pan and bring to just under a boil.  Serve in small bowls with a drizzle of honey on top.  You can also add a dollop of yogurt (or sour cream) if you want to get extra fancy.  Makes about eight 1/2 cup servings.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Got Summer Squash? Make Pasta Salad!

The zucchini and summer squash are coming in fast and furious in the garden, despite the fact that the wretched squash vine borer has had its way with a few of our plants. Grrrr.  This is a delightful pasta salad that you can serve immediately or put in the fridge and eat later.  The origins of the recipe come from the July 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living, but my adaptation is below.  It's a nice change from a traditional pasta salad dressed with a vinaigrette.

Summer Squash Pasta Salad with Honey
Serves 4

1/2 pound gemelli (or other short, tubular pasta)
about 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound summer squashes (about two smallish yellow squash and zucchini), cut into 1/2 inch circles
3 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons cooking sherry
1 Hungarian hot pepper, ribs and seeds removed and minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain, place in a bowl and stir in two tablespoons of olive oil.  While pasta is cooking, toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, shaking or stirring occasionally until fragrant--about 3 minutes.  Remove from skillet, roughly chop and set aside.  Add two tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and, over medium-high heat, saute the garlic for a few minutes.  Add the squash, with a sprinkling of salt and saute, turning occasionally, until squash is thoroughly cooked.  Add the toasted almonds and the squash to the pasta and toss.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the honey, bringing to a simmer while stirring.  Add the sherry and Hungarian hot pepper and cook until the mixture reduces a bit but is still runny--about 1 minute.  Pour over the pasta mixture and toss.  Add the minced basil and thyme and taste, adding salt and pepper as needed. Drizzle with a little olive oil.  You can serve this right away or refrigerate and serve later.  Bring it to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dairy-free Corn, Honey & Lime Ice "Cream"

Okay.  This recipe is admittedly a bit over the top, and I'm expecting a little good-natured ribbing from at least one of my two blog readers (thanks Mom & Dad!).

Mark Bittman's 7/7/12 op-ed in New York Times, "Got Milk? You Don't Need It?" finally convinced me to give dairy a break for a week.  I am an ardent ice cream fan (and have claimed to Robert, as I dish up a second scoop of Bruster's Dark Chocolate Ice Cream, that I can stop anytime I want).   What's an ice cream loving girl going dairy free to do?  Corn Honey & Lime Ice "Cream!"

We had a few ears of McConnell's Family Farm corn in our fridge left over from the weekend, and I came across a recipe for vegan Sweet Corn Ice Cream in Vegetarian Times.  Click on the link and it'll take you right there.  I, of course, swapped the agave syrup for honey, which calls into question whether this recipe is vegan now.   But this a blog about cooking with honey--and Corn & Lime Ice "Cream" is is a great dessert! It satisfies a confirmed ice cream lover's yearnings and it has the added bonus of being made with real food--not one goofy ingredient.  It's so good, I'd even recommend it to someone who isn't going dairy free!  After four hours in the freezer, it was the consistency of soft-serve ice cream.  A day later, it was very firm, yet still had a great mouth-feel.  This is NOT ice cream, so if you make it anticipating something exactly like ice cream, you may be disappointed.  But the flavor is wonderful and the texture is remarkably creamy given that there isn't a drop of cream in it.

Corn, Honey & Lime Ice "Cream"
4 cups cooked corn kernels (about four ears of corn)
1 cup cashews (I used roasted)
1/2  cup honey
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt (if needed)

In a food processor, puree 2 cups of corn with 1/2 cup cashews until finely ground.  Add one cup of water and process until relatively smooth.  Strain into a fine mesh sieve placed over a large bowl.  Process the other 2 cups of corn and 1/2 cup cashews as above.  Add another cup of water and process until smooth.  Pour in the sieve.  Press on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible and then discard the solids.  In a small bowl, combine the honey, lime zest, juice and vanilla extract and stir to combine well.  Add a few cups of the corn/cashew "juice" and blend well..  Whisk this into the rest of the corn/cashew mixture.  Taste and see if it needs salt.  Process the mixture in a ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.

Freeze for about four hours before serving.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Spicy Black Bean, Corn and Peach Salad (and Whole Wheat Flatbread!)

Ah, the peaches are in at McConnell's Family Farm! They truly (truly!) need no embellishment and never disappoint. These are the peaches that convinced me once and for all that it's worth waiting for local fruit to ripen:  I'll never buy another mealy grocery store peach as long as I live!  

While the best way to enjoy these peaches is simply on their own, they will ripen quickly.  We bought a box  about four days ago and a few are showing signs of heading south.  McConnell's corn on the cob is also in, so I decided to put together a kind of southwestern bean salad adding a few peaches to the melange. It's a bit spicy, which Robert likes, but you can play around with the ingredients and turn the heat up or down as you like. (Skip the ground chipotle pepper, for example, or only add half of the jalapeno).

I needed something to go with the salad and tried out Alice Waters's flat bread recipe posted on Carol Stabile's blog, Can't Handle the Heat?  Carol's a friend, colleague and mentor (in the academy and the kitchen).  I used the flatbreads to make a kind of black bean salad fajita (and tinkered with them only minimally--adding a tablespoon of honey; what can I say?).  Read on!
Spicy Black Bean, Corn & Peach Salad
2 cups cooked black beans (or 1 15 oz can, drained)
3 ears of corn, cooked and cut from the cob (or about 1 1/2 cups)
1 stalk celery, minced
1 jalapeno pepper,seeded and minced
1/4 cup red onion, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon honey

2 peaches, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, add the beans, corn, celery, jalapeno pepper and onion and gently toss to mix. Sprinkle the oil, ground chipotle pepper, salt and cayenne pepper over the mixture and gently toss again.
In a small to medium bowl, combine the juices and honey, stirring well to be sure the honey dissolves.  Add the cut, peeled peaches to the juice and honey mixture (the hope is that this will keep the peaches from turning brown too quickly).

Add the peaches/juices/honey mixture to the beans n'at (as we say Pittsburgh) in the large bowl and gently toss.  Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.  You can serve this salad right away or cover and refrigerate for up to four hours.  Serves 8 (easily).  Try them with flatbread!

Alice Waters's Whole Wheat Flatbread
(via Carol Stabile's Can't Stand the Heat? blog)

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon honey (optional!)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together.  Stir in the water, olive oil and honey and knead to form a moist dough.  Cover with a towel and let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat a cast iron skillet.  Divide dough into 16 balls. (They will seem quite small, but this is a lovely, pliable dough that will roll out to a thin bread.) Roll each ball into a 6 by 3 inch oval. (Mine were more like raggedy circles.)   I lightly oiled the skillet and cooked one flatbread at a time, about two minutes on each side.  Carol notes they're "great with hummus or other bean dips.  Good with peanut butter and jam.  Better still with Nutella."  They're lovely with a bit of honey and cinnamon, too!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Marbled Brownies for July 4th (or a graduation celebration)!

On July 4th, we're celebrating our brilliant and handsome nephew's graduation from college. (Yay Michael! Anyone looking to hire a clever, skilled writer and incredibly competent new grad? Email us!)   Where was I? Oh! Right!  Brownies:  I'm assigned to bring brownies to the festivities.  I was surprised to find this recipe, which uses honey as the sweetener for the brownie batter, in my loose-leaf copy Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (1976).  I think I picked this cookbook up in a thrift store in the 1990s.  I don't turn to it when I'm looking for recipes for fruits or vegetables, but I usually check it out when I need a basic recipe like brownies (or mac-n-cheese).
These brownies are a cross between the fudgy vs. cakey  options, though leaning a bit more on the fudgy side.  The recipe appears in narrative form in the book, so why mess with tradition?

Marbled Brownies 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in center of oven.  Grease a 9x9 square baking pan and line with parchment paper and then lightly grease the top of the parchment paper.  Melt 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and 6 tablespoons butter. [I did this in a microwave, heating for 15 second intervals and stirring in between; it took a total of 30 seconds, with about 30 seconds of waiting for the last bits to melt after the second time.]  In a separate bowl, gradually add 1/3 cup honey [I used spring honey] to 2 beaten eggs.  Blend chocolate mixture into egg/honey mixture and add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Whisk 1/2 cup all-purpose flour with 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and pinch of salt.  Add to chocolate mixture and fold in until just combined.  Batter will be a bit lumpy. [At this point, the recipe calls for pouring 1/2 of the brownie batter in the pan and baking for 10 minutes. I tried this, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference; there wasn't a solid layer of brownie at the bottom, in other words. Next time, I'll skip this step.]  Spoon cheese mixture [recipe follows] over brownie batter and then top with rest of brownie batter.  Lightly swirl cheese and brownie together.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging.  Cool completely and cut into bars.  

Cheese Filling:  Cream together 8 ounces softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar.  Beat in 1 egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Stir in 1 cup chopped nuts (optional).  

Makes about 32 1-inch brownies

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Unique, Refreshing Drinks with Honey Simple Syrup!

Basil Lime Honey Spritzer
The combinations are endless, the drinks are amazing and (at the risk of stating the obvious)  nothing could be simpler when you make a simple syrup with honey and water, infuse it with some herbs and add it to seltzer water!  You can strengthen that drink if you'd like with some rum (mint or basil-infused simple syrup makes a great mojito!); vodka (lavender-infused honey vodka tonic, anyone?); or even white wine for a wine spritzer.  These drinks don't need alcohol to make them special, though.  (And keep reading to the end for a bonus recipe:  honey ice cubes!)

Honey Simple Syrup Basic Recipe
Like the name suggests, the recipe itself is very simple.  The ratio is 1:1 honey and water.  Simply (ha!) mix the honey and water together in a sauce pan and bring it just to a simmer then turn off the heat and let the mixture cool.  Use this as you would use a simple syrup for mixed drinks--about 2 or 3 tablespoons added to a basic cocktail.  Keeps in the fridge for, oh, no more than a month.

If you want to get a bit more fancy, add about 1/2 cup of herbs or aromatic roots (basil, mint, ginger, lavender, lemon balm, fragrant rose blossoms--even rosemary would make an interesting addition).  Add the herbs right to the saucepan and simmer.  Let them steep in the syrup for about 30 minutes after you remove the pan from the heat.  Strain out the herbs and decant the syrup into a jar or bottle.  You can also add some fresh lemon, lime or orange juice along with the rind from the citrus fruit (try to avoid including the white pith with the rind, as that will add a bitter note).

Here are some combinations I made recently:  ginger, lavender and basil-lime!


Blend 1/2 cup of honey with 2 cups hot (not boiling) water and 2 tablespoons lemon (or lime or orange) juice.  Freeze in ice cube tray until solid.  Use in your fancy spritzers, iced tea or splash some single malt scotch on 'em babies and start sipping!