Baby Turnip & Mushroom Stem Gratin

Do you hate that horrible dreaded chore of cleaning out the fridge? The time when you find things that you didn’t get around to eating, or the food that fell down behind something else, things in bags and containers you really meant to get to, but didn’t before they sprouted into new plants or other life forms with a new array of colors. We all have the odd leftover items that just get wasted. For me, one of those items is mushroom stems. Not just any old mushroom stems, but shiitake stems, the tough, woody ones. They sit in the container after I have processed pounds of mushroom caps, waiting for me to make stock, which takes a bit of time to produce properly. I have several large containers in the freezer right now and I don’t need more at the moment.

I bet most of you don’t know that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was founded on October 16th, 1945, built upon “its belief that the goal of freedom from want of food, suitable and adequate for the health and strength of all people can be achieved.” Celebrated around the world, World Food Day honors that day and our commitment to defeating hunger. And this year’s international theme is all about Family Farming, feeding the world and caring for the earth.

So when this week’s IBM Watson beta-group challenge was posted to cook something we normally waste for The United Nations World Food Day, I was all in with these mushroom stems and a few other crazy items like apple peels and beet stems, which we will get to in another entry.  Since I would normally just compost this bunch of stems, I wanted to try to use this underutilized, normally wasted, food in a different way to increase its value.

The stems are typically tough and fibrous, not something called for in most recipes. They remind me of clams for some reason. My thought was to cook them in smoked salt and smoked peppercorns and elicit a bacon-like flavor like I do the caps and that would allow me to add them to several dishes without having to worry about their chewy nature. I could probably add them to clam chowder at a that point too! To do this, I started by cutting off the dry end where they were harvested from the logs. Then I chopped them the into small bits that would be the size of bacon bits for a salad. Using a hot cast iron pan, I proceeded to sauté them on medium heat in olive oil with the Alder Wood Smoked Salt and &  Mesquite & Apple Wood smoked peppercorns from Savory Spice until they were slightly crunchy. This took about 10 minutes. As I was finishing the browning process I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of the concentrate Tamarind Paste and a little Chardonnay left in the fridge just to deglaze the pan and add some moisture back to the mushroom bits. The process took about half an hour start to finish. Once the mushrooms bits are finished they can be stored in the freezer or used within a few days in a new recipe.

This recipe is one of a couple that turned out well. It is a side dish that uses items frequently found in bulk at the farmers markets this time of year. Pairing the mushroom bits with arugula, baby white turnips & smoked farmers’ cheese creates a rich dish that can stand up well to a lovely piece of grilled meat or roast. Feel free to use baby turnip greens or any other tender baby greens you might have around your house for this recipe. I think that some green or red soft leaf lettuce or a fall baby braising mix might also work well with this set of ingredients. Paneer would be a great substitute for the smoked farmers cheese if you are not fond of the smokey flavor.

Using IBM’s Chef Watson program I plugged in a couple of different alternatives to produce recipes for gratins, risotto and soup. I picked through the results to find recipes that required ingredients I can find at the local markets, or items I have already put away. The program allows me to select ‘Yard to Table’ and ‘Earth Friendly’ as my primary style most of the time, which seems to sway the results to use more fresh food unless I override it by selecting some style that might not feature as much local produce and spices. And even then, I have found the recipes to be pretty flexible.

The program is getting better at listing out steps properly and better at measurements relative to the number of servings although a couple of the most current recipes called for an amazing amount of garlic. Watson is an application that is learning from us and our corrections and adjustments, just as we are learning new food combinations from the recipes. A couple of the recipes for this Gratin came out with some chili spices in them. I think this might be a fun way to change the recipe, especially if you substitute paneer for the farmers cheese.

I tried making this recipe on the stove top and in the oven, with and without the greens. I eliminated the bread which is traditional in a Gratin mainly because I already eat enough without additional encouragement. But certainly feel free to add some back in on the top if you have something extra special from the bakery. A rustic French style bread would work well with the Smoked Farmers Cheese and maybe some ground up naan if you choose to add chili spices and go with paneer.

Mushroom Stems & Turnips

 

 

Baby Turnips & Mushroom Stem Gratin

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup sweet onions (saute or roast until translucent)
  • 1/4 cup celery, finely chopped (locally grown celery is typically stronger & more fibrous than typical grocery store celery; adjust accordingly)
  • 3 cups of baby white turnips, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian Herb mix ( or 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shiitake mushroom stems (sauté in olive oil on medium high heat with smoked salt & smoked peppercorns until well browned and a little crispy. If possible deglaze pan with white wine, water, or broth and store with mushroom bits)
  • 1/2  teaspoon Concentrate Tamarind Paste Liquid (Savory Spice) or substitute 3/4 – 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 1/4-1/2 cup whole milk or cream (lightly warmed)
  • 1/4 cup Chardonnay
  • Olive oil
  • 4 oz Smoked Dairyland Farmers Cheese (Chapel Hill Creamery)
  • 4 cups loose packed baby arugula (or baby turnip greens, tender Bibb or Red lettuce, possibly baby Savoy cabbage)

Preparation

  • Pre-heat the oven to 400F
  • On the stove top, warm a large cast iron pan to medium high. When it’s up to temperature, add in 1 tablespoon olive oil and coat the bottom of the pan well.
  • Immediately add in the thinly sliced turnips and toss to coat with olive oil and herbs.
  • While the heat remains on medium high, add the celery and cook, turning only as the turnips brown on one side. Do not crown the pan. Work in two batches if necessary.
  • As the turnips and celery finish add the pre-cooked mushroom stems, tamarind concentrate and chardonnay to deglaze the pan and heat through.
  • Turn off the heat and add the milk. Most of the water will evaporate immediately but the turnips will absorb the rest. (if you are able to warm the milk or cream a bit, it helps eliminate the chance of curdling)
  • Remove everything to a bowl.
  • Layer the greens across the bottom of the pan and cover with the turnip mixture. Thinly slice the soft cheese randomly over the top of the turnips.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and just beginning to brown and the greens have wilted.
  • Serve while hot.

Chèvre Truffles with Dehydrated Summer Fruit

Tomatoes and goat cheese are just the most wonderful pair of foods together any time of year. We are right in the middle of chèvre season here in the South. Soon it will be too late to get fresh chèvre as the goats begin seasonal breeding. I like to enjoy as much of this mild delicacy as possible while it’s around so it goes in just about anything I can think of.

It’s amazing to me how different each farm’s cheese products can be and their changes year to year as the herds diversify. Flavors can change based on the type of goats in a herd, the pastures or grounds that the goats are set on, the way they are handled and last but not least, by the cheesemaker’s skills. From start to finish, every component has to be right to get a quality product.

I was fortunate enough this week to discover a producer at the Yancey County Farmers’ Market in Burnsville that I had not tried yet. OakMoon Farm & Creamery has been producing both fresh and aged goat cheeses for many years. They have a little over 80 goats of four varieties in their herd and offer classes both on animal husbandry and cheese-making several times a year in Bakersville. They have been cross breeding their herd to get a mix that they like for more than seventeen years with many of the babies being sold to other farms and going on to win show prizes.

At the same market there were several farms with beautiful heirloom tomatoes that were perfectly ripe. Technically tomatoes are a fruit. So why not pair them with other fruits in dishes? There are literally hundreds of varieties in so many sizes and shapes, it’s nearly impossible to track them all. For me, it’s all about trying some new varieties each year and seeing what recipes I can come up with that highlight their unique shape, color, flavor or texture.

This week while I was pulling some recipes for a chilled soup, I also pulled some recipes for tomato-based cobblers and tarts which provided some inspiration for this recipe. I ended up combining the ingredients from a couple of different recipes mainly because the ingredients and equipment that I had available to use this week was a bit limited.

If you’re into easy recipes, this one  is so simple to make that it’s ridiculous. The main ingredients are dehydrated from local farmers markets. For those of you that are unfamiliar with dehydrating, summer is a great time to try it out. From peaches, strawberries, and apples to tomatoes, zucchini, sweet potatoes and kale, there are a number of snacks you can make with dehydrated food and storage space takes a fraction of space required by canned or frozen goods.

Depending on the size of the little balls you roll ( I recommend 1 teaspoon per truffle) this recipe will make a half-dozen to a dozen little treats. I prefer them smaller so they are just one bite. Especially if you make one that is kid-friendly. You can add toothpicks to them or wrap them in fresh herb leaves or use them to top salads.

 

Chèvre Truffles with Dehydrated Summer Fruit

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon dehydrated Sun Gold tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dehydrated peach slices, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dehydrated strawberry slices, finely chopped
  • 1/16 teaspoon fresh lime peel or fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 2-3 teaspoons local wildflower honey
  • 4 – 6 oz fresh local chèvre, depending on moisture
  • pinch Himalayan salt, fine grind
  • 1-2 tablespoons toasted or raw pecans, finely chopped

Preparation

  • By hand, blend the finely chopped tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, lime or mint, and honey into the fresh chèvre. Any excess moisture from fresh wet chèvre will be absorbed by the dehydrated pieces of fruit.
  • Refrigerate for an hour or up to a day.
  • Measure teaspoon amounts and roll by hand into small balls. This works best with kitchen gloves.
  • Spread the finely chopped nuts or herbs on a plate and gently roll the chilled chèvre balls around to cover completely, pressing gently to set the cover in place.
  • Refrigerate until needed, up to a day and serve slightly chilled.

Notes

  • Ground pepper is not recommended in this recipe as it overpowers the fruit
  • Serve with fresh basil or mint leaves for additional color and flavor

Summer Soup with Tomatoes, Peaches & Strawberries

Sometimes I feel like I don’t get out much, except to visit farmers’ markets. But let’s face it, a Saturday morning spent chatting with friends, meeting new folks, discussing recipes, harvests, farm animals, pets, and family is like going out to an evening party in my mind. So you won’t hear me complaining about getting up early to go out and pick up my ‘groceries’ in most any kind of weather, wherever I happen to be.

Which brings me to beautiful Western North Carolina this week. I’m up around 4500 feet enjoying a little cooler weather and hiking with my dogs. We are almost able to touch the stars at night with the mountain peaks floating above the clouds each morning. What a way to enjoy a sunrise breakfast made with all the fresh food we have found at the local markets.

There’s been no shortage of beautiful organically grown food here! Which means, plenty of eating, especially with hikes every day up and down hundreds of feet for the most panoramic views of the mountain tops. Each time I visit the area I try to get to at least a couple of new markets.  Mountain farms typically have much shorter growing seasons and the farmers travel further to sell at smaller markets. It’s critical that they make enough sales during the summer months to sustain them all year long. Many are investing in hoop houses and learning how to produce finished products to sustain year-round sales, but their largest income is still during the summer, when visitors are in town for local fairs and mountain activities. So skip the grocery store and eat seasonally for the time you are visiting. You will not be disappointed and you’ll be investing in the local economy.

This year my visit coincided with the annual Mt. Mitchell Craft Fair in Burnsville, NC. This event has been held for more than fifty years. There were several local vendors under the Heritage Tent that had some unique talents for weaving, carving, soap making and animal tanning! One of the exhibitors shared a little about the local farms and cooking demos scheduled for the upcoming Yancey County Farmers’ Market. It was worth a trip down the mountain to get some great new recipes from the market managers for squash fritters & kale stir-fry as well as pick up some additional veggies, eggs and ‘firecracker’ goat cheese!

The market also prompted some ideas for a couple of recipes using beautiful cherry tomatoes. I’ve been interested in combining some of the more delicate flavors of the less acid yellow tomatoes with fruit since I had a dessert at  Zely & Ritz in Raleigh from Chef Sarig Agassi using cherry tomatoes, fresh cheese and honey a number of years ago at a Farm to Table Dinner.

If you happen to run a web engine query on tomatoes and fruit, you’ll get back plenty of examples of lovely salads combining the flavors of these two groups, which are brought together through herbs and honey. Basil, mint, thyme, and rosemary all work well with summer fruits. Hot peppers can add a little contrast too. Choose your favorite acid like aged balsamic, white balsamic, infused, or apple cider vinegar, and the combinations are endless. What’s even better is that many of these pairings go well with  coconut milk, coconut water, kefir, yoghurt, almond milk, whole nuts, and even cheese. This increases the possibilities of what you can make from the base recipe to include frozen pops, slushy drinks, smoothies, puddings or chilled soups when the weather turns really hot or you just want something fun and different.

As a part of the beta test group for the IBM & Bon Appetit Chef Watson application, I decided to try to create a chilled soup and an appetizer that would be great for summer and show off the fresh flavors of the local farmers markets. After a few hours reviewing hundreds of recipes to for compotes, cocktails and crumbles and tarts, I tested around  a half-dozen combination ideas and came up with a couple that I liked and want to share.

On Wednesday I was able to pick up some beautiful organic cherry tomatoes in all different colors and sizes at the Weaverville Tailgate Market along with local honey. On the trip, I brought along both frozen and dehydrated strawberries and peaches from home because I wasn’t sure if I could find some here at the markets. Fresh thyme, rosemary, basil and mint came from an organic community garden I visited this week. These were the ingredients I wanted to start with so that’s what I plugged into the requirements for Chef Watson. I had to run the application a couple of times to find a base that I thought might work for chilled soup. The three types of recipes that seemed to have the most common ingredients included a crumble, a compote, and a cocktail. Since I’m traveling, I don’t have the wide range of spices or equipment available so the recipe requirements for me included simplicity. Based on the food I found at the farmers markets and what I brought with me, I came up with a base compote mixture that could be thinned out for a soup base or just pureed for a drink or frozen pop.

Compotes are a lot like preserves. You can add them to things like fresh goat cheese to use on sandwiches like a spread, or top your pancakes with them instead of syrup. They mix them into cakes really well for texture and flavor changes, or you can puree them into velvety soups or puddings and thicken with chia seeds or mix them with sparkling water or cider for surprising drinks.

The first rendition of this compote was cooked and it turned out nice once I balanced the sweetness with a little balsamic vinegar. But the flavors were not as bright as the  original fresh fruit and reminded me more of fall than late summer. So tried again, this time, keeping everything fresh and changing out one hard cider for another and adding coconut water just to see what would happen. That version stayed light and bright with all of the flavors sharing the spotlight pretty well.

So I’ll start by giving you the recipe for the raw base compote that makes a chilled soup or a frozen popsicle. And then I’ll tell you how to cook this and change the flavor profile by using some alternative ingredients based on different recipes that Chef Watson suggested. This recipe serves 2 or 4 as ‘shooters’.

 

Chilled Summer Soup with Cherry Tomatoes, Strawberries, Peaches & Goat Cheese

 

Chilled Summer Soup with Cherry Tomatoes, Peaches & Strawberries

Ingredients

  • 1 cup yellow pear cherry tomatoes (or other yellow or orange cherry tomato)
  • 1/2 cup ripe peaches, roughly chopped (can be frozen)
  • 1 cup ripe strawberries, quartered (can be frozen)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/8- 1/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh lime peel
  • 1/4 cup coconut water or plain crisp hard apple cider
  • pinch of Himalayan salt
  • pinch of ground white or red peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon White balsamic vinegar (Cattani)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh goat cheese

Preparation

  • Quarter the tomatoes & strawberries and place in a bowl.
  • Slice and rough chop the peaches and place in the bowl with tomatoes & strawberries.
  • Add the honey, thyme, fresh lime peel, coconut water, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar.
  • Let sit in refrigerator for up to a day.
  • Serve as chilled soup without blending, topping it with a bit of fresh goat cheese or fresh herbs.
  • Or, puree with chevre into blended soup and chill, serving it with some fresh basil leaves or grated lime peel.
  • Can be made up to a day in advance.

Notes

  • Frozen popsicles can be made with or without the chevre.
  • Hard apple cider should be clean and fresh tasting without additional flavors. I tried Crispin Apple Cider fermented with wine yeast and plain Crispin Apple Cider. Both worked, but I think the wine yeast was more complimentary with the base fruit and tomato flavors because it was not quite as sweet and allowed the true fruit flavors to stand out.
  • You can cook the ingredients for about 10 minutes on medium/high to reduce some of the liquid. Use a bit of coconut water to blend in 1 teaspoon of tapioca starch at the end and bring to light boil for a couple of minutes. The entire mixture will tighten up and be more of a compote. You can then refrigerate this and use it in a chilled soup or on top of waffles or as a sandwich spread.

Corn Madeleines with Sorghum & Lime Peel

This recipe started life as a corn muffin recipe generated from a computer. I wanted to create a muffin that was a little different from any of my other three recipes to go with Chesapeake Crab Soup. I ran a few Google searches and came up empty-handed so I thought it might be a good opportunity to run another test recipe through the IBM Chef Watson application. The program spat out 100 results with the first set of ingredients and parameters I plugged in based on a single Bon Appetit recipe. And after a couple more changes to the requirements, it spat out another couple hundred unique recipes based on a different recipe from the Bon Appetit database. You can see how this could be an endless process for someone with an inquisitive mind?

I am not going to divulge how many recipes I actually read through. But finally found five that I thought might be useful for this project and maybe another in the fall. One that stood out for this project included an ingredient I had not planned to use originally. Fresh lime peel. I debated making the recipe at first because this key ingredient is not found locally, and you know I like local. There’s not a substitute that I can think of to replace it either. But I was able to use local ingredients for all of the other key elements, which was my secondary goal, so went ahead with a test batch.

Traditional Maryland Crab Soup, the way I learned to make it from my Grandmother, is spicy. It’s kind of similar to Mexican Tortilla Soup with a thin spicy base that includes many ingredients you’ll find at the market this time of year. It’s a summer soup that has you grabbing for a cold drink. It’s similar to Mexican dishes in that way. In the South, you’ll be served some lemon slices to compliment your seafood meal and then a side of creamy sweet coleslaw to contrast spicy dishes. With Mexican dishes, you’ll find fresh limes and something creamy like sour cream or avocado. The lime accentuates other ingredients and cuts through the spices with a tart note to the dish while the creamy fat found in both sour creme and avocado help cut through the heat of the spices.  In this case, I had already requested the program design a recipe with kefir to calm the spices in the soup. And I asked for fresh corn, cornmeal, sorghum and gluten-free adaptations.

The primary goal was to keep the flavor of the fresh picked corn right out there in front when you bit into the muffin. This season’s corn has been some of the best that I’ve eaten in many years. When I went to pick corn at Cohen farm one recent Sunday morning, Esta and I ended up  sitting on the porch of the log cabin and eating it raw with the chickens getting their fill of the leftover cobs. I tried baiting the chickens for some good pictures, but it’s quite a task to get in there with the corn and not spook the mother hens with their chicks in tow. I got a couple of fun shots.

chickens eating corn summer 2014 Cohen Farm NC

After adjusting some of the ingredients to incorporate local items, what resulted from my work was a rather thin batter that tasted pretty good but didn’t look thick enough to make a muffin. But, it did look a lot like the madeleine batters I have made before. So instead of worrying any further about correcting the recipe I rationalized. A madeleine is really just a fancy name for a baked hushpuppy, when you think about it. And it looks really cute when it comes right out of the pan in the form of a lovely little shell. Really, what could possibly be more appropriate for Crab Soup? So that’s what I made and they were really fun and tasty so I’d like to share this recipe with you.

Yes, I would make them again. The recipe is simple enough to have your kids help in the process. Nothing has to be perfect with this batter. It’s all about oiling your little pan well with butter or olive oil and then filling to just the right place. Nine minutes later, you have fancy little baked hushpuppies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madeleines with Fresh Corn, Sorghum & Lime Peel

Ingredients

  • 1 T light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sorghum
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 6 whole dried juniper berries, crushed/ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (not saffron threads)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine Himalayan salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
  • 1/3 cup kefir
  • 1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh lime peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh-cut corn

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Sift yellow cornmeal, saffron, salt, baking powder together. Set aside.
  • Beat brown sugar, sorghum, honey together with melted butter or olive oil until creamy with whisk.
  • Add egg and kefir to liquid mixture, blend well with whisk.
  • Add ground juniper berries and lime peel to liquid mixture, blend well.
  • Stir dry cornmeal mixture into liquid mixture blend well with whisk. Mixture will seem very thin.
  • Stir in fresh corn with spatula.
  • Brush small madeleine pan with olive oil to avoid sticking.
  • Spoon or pour batter carefully into each depression, filling only 3/4. They will rise slightly during cooking process.
  • Bake until golden, but not browned, about 9 minutes. They should be firm when gently touched but not hard.
  • Cool a couple of minutes before popping out of pan with silicon spatula.
  • Serve warm.
  • Whipped butter with additional honey or sorghum optional.

 

 

Baked Summer Squash & Heirloom Tomatoes

As August rolls in, the heat is about to melt the best of us in the South. And there’s nothing I hate more than turning on the oven when temps are still in the high 80′s at the end of the evening. By this point, the squash bugs have normally taken their fill of thin-skinned summer squashes and it starts to become a little more scarce at the farmers’ markets. And the farmers are, quite frankly, tired of picking off the little buggers and squishing them with their fingers. I know, it’s gross, but just ask a number of them about squash bugs and it will surprise you how many secretly enjoy the process of disposing of the greedy creepy crawlers.

So pick up a few extra pounds this week and look for a semi-cloudy day when the temps are not going to blast you out of the kitchen. If you bake a couple of casseroles at one time you’ll have the option of some additional meals or freezing some of the leftovers. They are wonderful added to soups or poultry stocks through the winter for some extra flavor and body. They also make excellent second meals right away by combining them with pasta, putting them on grilled sandwiches, or adding them to breakfast omelettes.

One note on variety that’s important, I find that the patty pan squash holds up better in this recipe than the crookneck squash. It gives off less water, holds the shape better, and tends to have very few seeds comparatively. Opt for smaller green zucchini to avoid lots of seeds near the end of the season.  You’ll need a higher acid tomato for contrast in this dish, so try to find something like a Cherokee Purple. Size won’t matter here, but make sure to use a ripe tomato. A green or partially ripe one just won’t yield the flavor or texture for this dish. I selected a sweeter variety of onion from one of the farmers. You could use one of the sweet red varieties as well, but I prefer a sweet yellow in this recipe.

A couple of comments on the salt and pepper. I’ve listed Himalayan salt but there are several that work well with summer veggies. I know a lot of folks need to stay away from salt and this is actually how I got started on the strange discovery of so many salts and peppercorns. With a history of high-blood pressure in our family I was looking for ways to reduce salt and found that using better quality salts that actually accentuate the flavors of individual foods and cooking methods helped me reduce the quantity I was using. So in this recipe you could also use Murray River Pink Salt, or a Fler de Sel. Stay with something that is on the brighter side of the salts for this dish. On the peppercorns, I use the Four Corner Blend of peppercorns daily. I find the blend to be a little less pronounced in the dish than typical dark peppercorns on their own. The blend seems more mild, in my opinion, which allows for some flexibility. I use a grinder or mortal to get fresh ground pepper all of the time. On vacation, I’ve been known to use napkins and canned goods when neither is available and it works just fine.

 

Baked Summer Squash & Heirloom Tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baked Summer Squash & Heirloom Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sliced raw onions
  • 4 cups sliced patty pan squash 1/8-1/4″ thick
  • 4 cups sliced green zucchini 1/8-1/4″ thick
  • 2 cups sliced ripe tomato 1/4″ thick
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup cheese (Chapel Hill creamery Calvander or Hickory Grove)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt,
  • 1/4 teaspoon Four peppercorn blend
  • 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend

Preparation

  • Find a round pie pan or casserole pan and wipe the inside with olive oil to avoid sticking.
  • Slice the onions thinly and cook on low heat with olive oil until they are soft and translucent; about 20 minutes. Place the cooked onions into the pie pan and spread out as the bottom layer of the casserole.
  • Slice the patty pan squash and zucchini about 1/8-1/4″ thick and place in a large bowl or on a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • Toss the squash and zucchini with enough olive oil to coat the vegetables and the Italian herbs (the dried herbs will help absorb a little of the liquid as the casserole bakes and a few turns of fresh ground pepper. Wait to salt until the end as it will draw out the water.
  • Then layer the squash, tomatoes and zucchini in rows or in a circular patter alternating tomatoes between squash & zucchini. Stack them tight so nothing dries out during baking & add a bit of salt as you go along.
  • After the layering is complete mix any fresh chopped herbs like thyme and rosemary into grated cheese and sprinkle on top.
  • Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes until the squash and tomatoes are cooked through. They will look a little dry by that point and the cheese will be melted but not browned.
  • Serve immediately.

Notes

  • Freeze leftovers to use in stock soup base cream sauce
  • Chop leftovers and add to quiche with bacon and mild chopped greens
  • Chop or puree leftovers to use in vegetable or squash soup
  • Chop leftovers for omelettes along with fresh chives or arugula
  • Toss warmed leftovers with pasta and additional cheese and fresh or sauteed greens
  • Use leftovers whole in pressed pannini sandwiches with roasted eggplant or grilled mushrooms

Chef Watson’s Surprise Summer Punch

The highlight of last week was being accepted into the beta program for IBM’s Chef Watson. The program combines the Bon Appetit catalog of recipes along with a database of foods and their relative chemical properties to produce many iterations of a recipe based on parameters that the cook chooses in the 4-step process. Each time any parameter is changed, the application spawns an entirely new set of 100 recipes ideas. Results range from classic combinations and preparation techniques to more unique recipes with unusual pairings and more advanced requirements based on compounds found in the ingredient list. Kind of like a Spice Bible on steroids.

Being in beta, the program has some hiccups, but so far, I’ve found it to be pretty easy to navigate through the user interface and overcome some of the shortfalls in the ingredient list since I use a lot of preserved food. Over time the program will change as the database of information increases and the users give feedback on what is the most helpful for creating new recipes. Home cooks, chefs, and nutritionists should be able to adapt recipes to include seasonal and local foods or eliminate foods as necessary. This would be a great application for a school to use combined with a garden program. That’s my unabashed plug for funding more robust Home Economics & Science programs!

For the Homesteading Fair at Whole Foods, my choices for ingredients included seasonal organic items that the Chapel Hill store could provide along with some preserved items. In homesteading, the idea is to use preserved food out of season so I wanted to demonstrate how to use food that can be preserved in different ways. Another goal was to teach how to eliminate waste from meals. Reusing leftovers in secondary meals or storing it in a way that it can be used later, saves money by eliminating waste.

My ingredients for Saturday’s Fair included fruits that are currently in-season like watermelon, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches. Then I wanted some items like strawberries and apples to demonstrate using preserved items that were frozen, dehydrated or canned. I didn’t stray into the vegetable range, but after tasting a couple of different variations of this on Saturday, I’m pretty sure you could add beet stems (yes, they are sweet) or roasted beets – maybe staying on the yellow-orange side of beets since they are less strong in flavor. The other two herbs I would suggest based on my experience are Pineapple Sage (maybe 3-4 fresh leaves) or Lemon Verbena (maybe 4-8 leaves – they are typically small) if you prefer lemon to lime in the recipe.

Allowing Chef Watson a lot of range, I only added a couple of fruits and vegetables to my list of preferred ingredients and I eliminated dairy to keep the results in the vegan range.  I asked for a drink and the program found a “punch” from Bon Appetit that it used for the base recipe. The beauty of this recipe is that you really won’t have to measure accurately and you can update the recipe based on what has come into season for your location and what you might have on hand in preserved food. This is very flexible and makes it easy for both kids and adults to experiment.

The recipes that Chef Watson created included directions to let juices sit together for days to ‘marry’ into a robust punch. Since it was late Friday night when I started to play around with the program and I knew there would be plenty of kids at the event Saturday, I obviously didn’t go with that option. Several of the combinations included soda water combined with variations of watermelon, peach, blueberries and strawberries. All of these are cooling fruits and with our August heat, they all fit the bill for the Fair. But, instead of soda water for this demonstration, I decided to use coconut water as a healthy alternative and I used dehydrated peaches and dehydrated strawberries to help thicken the drink as they rehydrated in the liquid. Frozen blueberries or blackberries were good additions to the base of strawberry, peach and watermelon on the second run of the recipe. The lime juice in both test batches really brought out the flavor of the fruit. In my opinion, the honey for this recipe is optional. I added it but if you are eliminating sugars from your diet, this recipe will still work well without it.

This recipe will make enough for two and I believe it will freeze well as a popsicle or be a fun base to an alcoholic beverage. One of the other suggestions from Chef Watson was the use of coconut milk and based on that, this set of ingredients might work well as some sort of fruit sorbet or pudding with chia seeds as a thickening agent. I’ve also added some variations that use canned peach preserves, strawberry preserves and blackberry preserves. But please note that when I make ‘preserves’ they are more of a fruit reduction with some added honey, lemon and a few spices. I do not can them very often, but instead freeze them in very small quantities to use in applications like this drink. If you choose to use a sweeter version of preserved fruit, balance out the flavor with lime and possibly a pinch of salt.

Chef Watson Surprise Summer Punch

 

Chef Watson’s Summer Punch

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped watermelon without seeds (Yellow Doll or Red variety)
  • 1 cup chopped frozen strawberries (or 1/3 cup dehydrated strawberry slices)
  • 1 cup chopped frozen peaches (or 1/3 cup dehydrated peach slices)
  • 1 lime squeezed (up to 1/2 cup of lime juice maximum)
  • 1 cup plain coconut water (may need more if using dehydrated fruit)
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey (vary to your taste)
  • Optional – pinch of salt

Preparation

  • Add coconut water, lime and honey to the bottom of the blender.
  • Followed by watermelon, dehydrated fruit or preserves and lastly, frozen fruit.
  • Pulse blend to combine.
  • Increase speed to high and blend until smooth.
  • Pour over chipped ice for a colder drink if most of the ingredients are room temperature or refrigerated.

Variations

  • Substitute lemon juice for lime juice
  • Add 3/4 – 1 cup blueberries or blackberries
  • Add 1/4 cup dried figs
  • Add 1/4 cup frozen or fresh raspberries & 1/2 cup of apple
  • Add 3-4 leaves of Pineapple Sage
  • Add 4-8 leaves of Lemon Verbena
  • Substitute coconut milk or kefir for coconut water
  • Consider adding 1/8-1/4 cup roasted golden beet or 4-6 fresh beet stems
  • Freeze coconut milk or water in ice-cube trays for colder drink

Pumpkin Pie Smoothies at the Homesteading Fair

The thunderstorms from earlier in the week subsided on Saturday so it did get a tad warm even under the tents and canopy of the Whole Foods store in Chapel Hill as we all gathered for the first ‘Homesteading Fair’. This was one of a number of community events the store hopes to hold in the future. As inquisitive customers & kids went in and out of the store, they were treated to samples and discussions about preserving food, helping pollinators, water conservation and composting, along with managing back-yard chickens. There were plenty of samples to taste, herbs to plant and even a pop-up shop full of great cook books!

At the Tarheel Foodie tent I was welcoming bees that Marty Hanks had summoned just for the occasion. They were helping clean up after my honey spills and delighting the children that stopped by to sample smoothies. Marty had one of his bee keeping coveralls and head gear available for the kids to mess with, along with samples of honey from his own hives and some from the North Carolina Mountains. The most fascinating was the ‘cotton honey’ because the texture and flavor were close to ‘creamed honey’. But the flavor was quite different from creamed honey. It had a subtle sweetness and was less grainy on the tongue. Something worth trying if you get the opportunity. We used the #JustBeeApiary “Carrboro Hometown Honey” in the smoothies on Saturday but I encourage you to try all of the different honey that Marty produces, because each one has a different flavor and viscosity depending on the flowers and vegetables that the bees were harvesting pollen from in their area this year. And that changes year to year.

The Pumpkin Pie smoothie is a variation of one that I made with the HomeFries Cooking Class at the Durham Farmers Market a week ago. This is a smoothie that I drink a lot during the summer because it’s a great way to include more vegetables and fruit in my diet when the temperatures soar above 90 and it cleans out any leftover veggies from the prior year’s crop that I’ve saved. This recipe can be frozen into freezer pops using coconut milk as the liquid base. Coconut water tends to create more ice crystals in the popsicle so adjust the recipes with that in mind.

Since I use a standard size bar blender most days, these recipes are designed for two large servings. They will be more creamy if you use a higher powered blender, but they are designed to work in an everyday blender. If you’re using a little bullet-type blender, cut the ingredients to half so it fits into your container. All of the ingredients should be chopped to at least bite-size chunks. I find that chopping the winter squash and fruits well or blending them and then placing them in quart size freezer bags makes it very easy to break off chunks into the blender that mix well without taxing the blender motor as much. It’s a bit more difficult to get the fruit and veggies out if they are stored in round or square containers because they bind up together as they chill. The colder your veggies and fruit, the more frosty and thick your smoothie will turn out. And it’s possible to freeze the coconut water and coconut milk in ice-cube trays and then store the frozen cubes until you need them if you plan to use all fresh fruit or simply refrigerated veggies and fruit.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
Ingredients

  • 1 cup roasted chopped winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin)
  • 3/4 cup chopped frozen or fresh cantaloupe
  • 3/4 cup chopped frozen or fresh peaches (or 1/4 cup dehydrated peaches)
  • 1/4 cup raw chopped carrot (1/3 cup roasted frozen carrot)
  • 1/4 cup apple (1/8 cup dehydrated apples)
  • 1/4 cup chopped raw pecans
  • 1-2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice (no sugar or salt)
  • 1/8- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract or vanilla powder
  • 2-3 teaspoons sorghum syrup or honey (or combination)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups coconut milk or kefir
  • Enough coconut water or other liquid to thin to your preference

Preparation

  • In a standard bar blender, add the coconut milk or kefir first so the blades of the blender can turn.
  • Add the frozen melon and peaches next because they are less dense than the winter squash.
  • Add the raw carrots, nuts, spices and sorghum.
  • Add the frozen winter squash.
  • Pulse blend to incorporate the ingredients to a rough state. About a minute.
  • Bring the blender up to a higher power and blend until the smoothie is creamy.

Variations

  • Roasting the winter squash in olive oil with a bit of salt brings out the flavor more
  • Substitute roasted sweet potato for winter squash
  • Yellow Doll Watermelon can be substituted for cantaloupe
  • Use less kefir or coconut milk and more coconut water to make thinner version
  • In a pinch you can add a couple of tablespoons of your own sweet potato butter for more concentrated flavors, remembering that this will also raise the glycemic count significantly without as many trace minerals as the sorghum or honey.

HomeFries Cooking Class at the Durham Farmers’ Market

Summer Peach & Melon Salad at the Durham Farmers' Market with the HomeFries Cooking Team. Photo & copyright Casey Boone: www.caseyboonephotography.com

Summer Peach & Melon Salad at the Durham Farmers’ Market with the HomeFries Cooking Team. July 2014. Photo Copyright Casey Boone

 

 

 

Saturday’s HomeFries Class was all about staying cool using melons. Let’s face it, most people aren’t comfortable with the words “soup” and “chilled” pushed together as something to eat in the middle of a hot summer day. But if you mention “smoothie”, you’ll get an entirely different set of facial expressions when it’s above 90F. So teaching the “HomeFries” that chilled soups and smoothies are really only separated by a savory ingredient or two was a lot of fun. Even better was the knowledge that they could make these at home and go further making popsicles too. And, we had time to enjoy a seed spitting contest when we were finished!

 

Photography & Copyright:  Casey Boone www.caseyboonephoto.com

HomeFries Watermelon Seed Spitting at the Durham Farmers Market. July 2014. Photo Copyright: Casey Boone

 

The recipes for this class were simple because the main points we wanted to cover included:
1. how to think about & combine flavors
2. ratios of liquid to solid & frozen to fresh to get a smooth texture
3. swapping base liquids and melons for seasonal or regional availability

There were some hits to the class and some clear misses. The cucumber drink that I adore was a miss in my opinion, mainly because I could not find the lime that I thought was packed. It’s probably a science experiment somewhere at this point. The lime adds a bit of punch to cut through the cucumber and balances the honey and salt. This is one case where one ingredient does make a huge difference.

 

HomeFries Team cutting up the melon & peaches for Summer Salad & Skewers at the Durham Farmers' Market. Photo Copyright Casey Boone: caseyboonephotograpy.com

HomeFries Team cutting up the melon & peaches for Summer Salad & Skewers at the Durham Farmers’ Market. Photo Copyright Casey Boone

All the kids of the Durham Farmers' Market HomeFries class were able to customize their salads with some additional mint, basil and goat cheese. Photo Copyright Casey Boone.

All the kids of the Durham Farmers’ Market HomeFries class were able to customize their salads with some additional mint, basil and goat cheese. Photo Copyright Casey Boone.

 

The HomeFries team members had the opportunity to cut up fresh fruit provided by the local farmers for a salad. And, we even had a nice woman stop by and offer us a few fresh peaches for the salad that she had just purchased from the market. The kids didn’t take long to get those cleaned up, cut, and added to the salad. They tried adding a little mint to their individual bowls with the fruit; and then a little basil to compare. The recipe calls for some tender baby greens like baby arugula or micro-greens, but we couldn’t find exactly what we needed, (there’s a micro-greens vendor at the Durham Saturday market), so we adapted the recipe for what was available from the farmers on Saturday.

 

Individual Fruit Skewers prepared by the HomeFries Team at the Durham Farmers' Market. Photo Copyright Casey Boone: www.caseyboonephotography.com

Individual Fruit Skewers prepared by the HomeFries Team at the Durham Farmers’ Market. Photo Copyright Casey Boone

 

The salad was a big hit and the kids took the extra pieces of melon and blueberries and made fruit skewers that would be ideal for a party or picnic. We had a chance to talk about ways to adapt the skewers for the season changes with strawberries earlier in the season and apples and pears later in the season. And they were able to taste a couple different herbs with the fruit and decide which flavors worked best for each of the fruits. The beauty of these two ‘recipes’ is that the kids are able to customize their salads from a base if the salad is set up with ‘toppings’ like herb leaves, goat cheese or nuts.

 

 

 

 

The first two recipes don’t require sweeteners, so the group spent time talking about honey, sorghum, and maple syrup as natural sweeteners for the next batch of recipes and how the season might influence the choice of sweeteners. We also talked a lot about substitutes for dairy like almond milk, coconut milk, coconut water, and kefir (which is nearly lactose-free). Each of these creates subtle changes to each recipe and the HomeFries played with a couple during class. Almond milk is thin, but adds a bit of sweetness like coconut water. Coconut milk and kefir are a bit heavier and provide a creamy texture that many chilled soups and smoothies require. Coconut milk, coconut water and almond milk can be frozen into ice cubes if the other components are fresh, eliminating the need for ice that would melt faster and diminish the flavor.

The HomeFries Team tested two versions of the Chilled Strawberry & Watermelon Soup. One with and one without the goat cheese. This recipe can be frozen into popsicles. Photo Copyright Casey Boone: www.caseyboone.com

The HomeFries Team tested two versions of the Chilled Strawberry & Watermelon Soup. One with and one without the goat cheese. This recipe can be frozen into popsicles. Photo Copyright Casey Boone

 

The Strawberry Soup turned out to be a double-header hit. We decided as a team to make the recipe up without the goat cheese first and give it a try, and then add it on a second batch of soup for comparison. This turned out to be a great teaching opportunity to show the difference in a “smoothie” verses a savory “soup”. All of the kids loved the smoothie tasting of this recipe without the chèvre, even with a bit of raspberry vinegar (thanks to Olio2Go for that bottle!). And, as a bonus, all of the kids, except the young cook that didn’t like goat cheese, enjoyed the savory version with the fresh cheese blended in. We even had an opportunity to add a little additional cheese so they could taste what happens when the ratios are changed just a bit.

 

 

The other point to make on this recipe is that we used one of my “cooking hacks”. Each year I freeze quite a lot of fruit but there are times when I need a reduction of fruit for concentrated flavor in a recipe. The Strawberry Soup recipe offered a chance to show the kids that they could use some jam from the market or from home and add some raspberry vinegar to balance the sugar and come up with a quick smoothie even if they didn’t have all of the listed ingredients. Many of the farmers at the market make jam out of extra fruit that doesn’t get sold and there are a couple of vendors like Farmers Daughter and Fiddlehead Farm that make quite a bit of preserves if it’s not something you do in your home.

The HomeFries Team takes turns working with the blender to puree the fruit smoothie ingredients. Photo copyright Casey Boone: www.caseyboonephotography.com

The HomeFries Team takes turns working with the blender to puree the fruit smoothie ingredients. Photo copyright Casey Boone

The last smoothie we made was based on cantaloupe, Yellow Doll melon, peaches, and winter squash. The HomeFries Team made this recipe without the winter squash and pumpkin pie spices because there wasn’t any winter squash available yet at the market. We experimented with both coconut milk and fizzy water to make the smoothie rich and bubbly.

 

At home I roast quite a bit of winter squash with olive oil in the fall and use it frozen in this recipe along with sorghum syrup from the NC mountains, coconut milk or kefir and pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon to blend up a frozen smoothie that reminds me of Pumpkin or Sweet Potato Pie, but much less sweet.

Cantaloupe, Melon & Peach Smoothie with coconut milk & fresh herbs. Photo Copyright Casey Boone

Cantaloupe, Melon & Peach Smoothie with coconut milk & fresh herbs. Photo Copyright Casey Boone

 

Lastly, the HomeFries team took home a special “Pop Zipzicle” bag to make popsicles out of their own smoothie creations. The coconut milk makes up an especially creamy version of a popsicle where the coconut water makes for a more traditional fruit ice-popsicle. These are inexpensive fun products that kids of all ages can enjoy and it gives each ‘chef’ the opportunity to be really creative when loading in additional ingredients after the base is made like fresh herbs or bits of fruit for pops of color and flavor.

Here are the recipes. They are designed to feed just a couple of people and very flexible so you can change the ratios to make the smoothies more savory, sweet, thick or thin and the fruit salad can be adapted to the season. We had a couple of food allergies to work around on Saturday so you’ll see some optional changes below in the recipes that we worked with for the HomeFries class.

 

Cucumber Cooler

  • 1 – 1/2 cups chopped cucumber, partially peeled
  • ½ cup cold water (sparkling)
  • 3 cups ice cubes
  • ¼ cup Honey
  • ½ – 1 lime, juiced
  • Pinch of pink sea salt

Add everything into a blender with the liquid at the very bottom. Pulse at first to roughly combine all of the ingredients and then use a higher power to blend until the drink is completely smooth and frosty; free of ice chunks. Serve immediately. Makes enough for 2 people.

 

Watermelon & Strawberry Smoothie, Popsicles or Chilled Soup

  • 1 cup chopped frozen red watermelon (or combination of red & yellow with seeds removed)
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries (or 1.5 tablespoons strawberry preserves or fruit reduction)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk, almond milk, or coconut water (for smoothie or popsicle only)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh goat cheese (for soup only)
  • 2 large fresh leaves from Pineapple Sage plant
  • 1/2 teaspoon Raspberry vinegar
  • Pinch of salt (Murray River pink or Himalayan pink)
  • Optional – drizzle with blueberry, blackberry, or raspberry reduction
  • Optional – fresh mint or basil leaf for garnish

Add the liquid, fruit and vinegar into the blender with the liquid at the bottom. Pulse until the combination is well mixed. Then add in the herbs and blend on high until the mixture is completely smooth. Add the goat cheese and pulse just until blended and turns lighter red/pink color. Serve immediately, or freeze in molds. Makes enough for 2 people.

 

Chilled Cantaloupe & Peach Soup or Smoothie

  • 1 cup chopped frozen or chilled cantaloupe
  • 1 cup chopped frozen or chilled peaches (treated with lemon to avoid browning)
  • 1/2 cup liquid (kefir, coconut milk, almond milk or fizzy water)
  • 1/4 cup dried apple slices (substitute 1/2 of fresh sweet apple, skin removed)
  • Pinch of salt (Murray River pink or Himalayan pink)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (the kids liked more)
  • Optional – drizzle with Blueberry, Blackberry or Mulberry reduction
  • Optional – 1/4 – 1/2 cup raw pecans & almonds will thicken this up
  • Optional – herbs like fresh lemon verbena or pineapple sage leaves work well
  • Fresh mint or basil leaf for garnish

Add the liquid, salt, fruit, vanilla extract, and dried apple slices into a blender and pulse until well combined. If you add nuts, add those initially as well. Once the mixture is well combined, add in any additional herb leaves and blend on high until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Garnish with blueberry, blackberry or mulberry reduction syrup and fresh mint or basil. This recipe can be frozen into popsicles

  • Optional Fall Pumpkin Pie Smoothie: add 1 cup roasted butternut squash, pumpkin puree or roasted sweet potato puree (puree can be frozen into ice cubes for long term storage), 1/4 cup raw chopped carrot, 1/4 cup raw pecans, 1 teaspoon sorghum syrup or honey, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

 

Simple Melon & Greens Salad or Skewers

  • 1 cups fresh washed mild greens like baby arugula or 1/2 cup mixed micro-greens
  • 2 cups mixed melons (honeydew, watermelon, yellow doll, cantaloupe
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries or blackberries
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh chèvre (feta would be more pronounced for adult version)
  • Optional:  1/8 cup fresh red onion sliced thin
  • Optional:  1 teaspoon fresh chopped chives
  • Optional:  cubed paneer or feta  and basil or mint leaves for skewers

Wash off the outsides of the melons and gently rinse and dry the fresh berries. Cut up the melons, throwing away the seeds (or save them for a seed spitting contest). Mix all of the fruit together with any of the optional herbs, cheese and onions. Add the blueberries last and toss gently. Serve

 

Catch the Buzz, Capturing & Moving a Honeybee Hive

Bumble Bee at Duke University Brody Discovery Garden

Bumble Bee at Duke University Brody Discovery Garden

 

Many of you know Marty Hanks at Just Bee Apiary from our local farmers markets, coffee shops displays, and school events. He’s been building awareness in the Triangle area about bee-keeping and sustainable practices for years now. It’s a slow process to reach out to hundreds of thousands of people and educate them about tiny creatures that fly around and pollinate our local food supply and make delicious nectar that lasts virtually forever. But as you begin to understand the seasonal impact of wild and harvested fields, crops, flowers, trees, rain and temperature ranges, you can see how every variable contributes to the honey and how important even small individual decisions you make in your life might affect these masters of creation.

Getting the smoker ready

Marty, getting the smoker ready

Disorienting the bees with smoke

Keeping the bees busy with smoke

Beginning to open the cavity.

Beginning to open the cavity.

Opening the hive

Opening the hive

Exposed Combs

Exposed Combs

Pollen in the comb

Pollen in the comb

Honey in the Comb

Honey in the Comb

The Contraption

The Contraption

Sucking in the hive

Gathering the hive

#iPhone #flashlight

#iPhone #flashlight to check for straggling bees

Straggling Bees in the structure

Straggling Bees in the structure

Bees in the Contraption Cage

Bees in the Contraption Cage

Spraying sugar water to attract & feed the hive

Spraying sugar water to attract & feed the hive

Moving the hive to new box

Moving the hive to new box

Moving the last of the hive

Moving the last of the hive

The original combs from the hive go in last in the center

The original combs from the hive go in last in the center

Which brings me to the point of this particular post. Bees are in serious decline. No matter what the reason you believe is causing this, there is reason to be concerned because most vegetables and fruits are pollinated by bees and other flying insects. Saving every honeybee hive is important before they go the road of extinction. So when a homeowner calls and says, I have a hive of honeybees that needs to be removed and there’s a time window or cost associated with this process, Marty, as do many of the bee-keepers around the country, spring into action to gather the hard-working hive up and move them to a better location.

His goal in the process is to create the least amount of stress for the hive, capture the queen so the hive stays together, move some of their comb to retain their scent, and get every last one of the little foraging creatures as they fly home in the setting sun. So please pardon some of the pictures as I still use an iPhone for my work! As a note, Marty uses one too to light up the inside of the house frame and take a picture or two when he’s extracting in addition to his head lamp. Technology at work. Ya’ gotta’ embrace technology some days!

So this story begins just around 6 pm as the sun begins to set. Not far from my house in a neighborhood where I walk my dogs is a lovely house with a lovely garden. The lemony scent of the magnolias waft through the breeze this particular evening and you can see why the bees have chosen this location with garden roses and gardenia to locate. This hive plans to enjoy the rewards of a good set of gardening neighbors with lots of flowering trees, shrubs and flower beds. Marty has already been here once earlier in the week to examine the location. The hive is very calm and it’s a cool summer night, so he has only brought along a small bit of head-gear, (mainly because he got “lit up” in the face earlier in the week with another hive). It’s easy for me to get close and set up my tri-pod and phone. Marty explains that I should consider myself a “tree” and the bees will tend to land on me, but remaining calm will keep them calm as well.

He’s planning to use just a bit of smoke to mask the pheromones chemical reaction that they will send out through the hive as an alarm that something is disturbing the hive. The smoke will trigger a genetic response, like that of a forest fire. Instead of stinging and protecting the hive from the intruder, the bees will go into the hive and cluster to feed on the nectar to take it to a new location and use the energy from their own nectar (think carbohydrates here) to rebuild new combs. That process is very energy intensive, so it’s important to move hives when they have time to rebuild their combs and to add to their own stores of honey to survive winter when there is little for them to forage and feed themselves. That’s why many bee-keepers that pull honey in the fall keep that honey to feed the bees should the winter be severe or drag on, like we had happen this year. Or they simply will not pull any honey near the end of the season.

The first ladder is set up against the home and left for a few minutes so the bees resettle. During that time, the smoker is lit and gets going on the ground. This process just takes a small amount of time. Marty has even built a tin holder so he doesn’t start any fires when he is out in the woods or field with a hot smoker. At this location, we have a concrete drive to work on, with the benefit of electrical outlets nearby, so getting into the hive will be relatively quick using power tools, albeit noisy for the hive. A simple set of tools is used to pry off an outer board and it’s pretty evident that failing pointing in the wall has created several gaps that made it easy for the bees to get underneath and find a cool location on a HVAC and water line to set the hive in place. Fortunately, this hive just arrived a couple of weeks ago and there are just a few combs in place, but the hive size is remarkable so it will be important to find the queen and isolate her if possible in her own little box to keep her safe and well. As the sun fades, it will become more difficult to spot her exceptional green colored dot. But other bees will naturally protect her so clustering is a second way to locate her.

Extracting bees by suction is not Marty’s preferred method, but since the hive has crawled up into the home’s structure, it’s the only option in this case for a speeding recovery of the workers. Out comes a unique creation box and vacuum that uses a very low horsepower shop vac attached to a box with screen mesh that will contain the bees. To the bees, this is the equivalent of a tornado so Marty moves as quickly as possible gathering up the clusters of bees on the combs before breaking off a couple of pieces of comb in the front of the opening. The two large pieces of combs are put into one of the frames for the hive box because they contain the scent that is unique for this hive. The other frames are for the hive to use and rebuild. A couple of the combs contain more than just pollen. There’s a bit of nectar-honey and some seed bee eggs that look like itsy-bitsy particles of rice. The honey in the hive is quite sweet as we taste from a broken comb piece.

As Marty is gathering up the bees with the now, rather loud, shop-vac, which, did I mention, is precariously attached to a second ladder next to him, he notices the bees have been chewing through the packed insulation of the house to get further up the water and HVAC line to a cooler location. The white dust that is left behind is the evidence of their destructive capability when building a home. Some of this gets into the honey comb, but most of it just falls down into the cavity of the home’s outer wall. The process continues for the better part of an hour. And this is just about the time, we notice that the bees are still climbing along a rafter and up in a spot Marty had not seen before. So he pulls down a little more insulation to get a better look. And out comes another large bunch of bees! This is when Marty is probably wishing he might have started just a tad earlier because it is evident, we’re going to be here a while longer.

The good news is that there are not many left and Marty has switched out his had and mesh for a simple head-lamp to help him see into the void of the wall as he continues to reach his arm up into the framing and pull down handfulls of bees. They are quite calm still and he’s been able to make quick work of it with just a few stings. But all in all, he seems pleased with the progress although it’s taken more than a couple of hours up on the ladder at this point to pull them out safely.

The neighbors look on at the process by the side fence and we are periodically taking breaks to show them a little of the comb and explain the process. During the breaks, the foraging bees can return and go back into the hive and settle down. A little smoke, a little more vacuum action and finally Marty spots what he thinks might be the queen surrounded by a mass ball of bees the size of his fist. He able to get the mass but not isolate the queen, which would be the best of circumstances. He won’t be able to look for the queen now until Sunday or Monday when he’ll move the hive again to a stable location.

Now the process of moving the bees from their captured box into the hive box begins, in the dark of night. The bees will be calmer moving without much light and with the old combs set in place. The new hive box has been sprayed with some sugar water for temporary food while they are stressed and using up lots of carbohydrates. Many will “fan” out their tails to tell other returning bees that this is now the new home. With the old combs and scent in place, the bees signal each other to come on inside and settle for the night! We are able to get quite close to the bees without any protection and witness them doing their little dance and moving on each frame as Marty spaces them out evenly. He’s getting the bees more evenly dispersed on each rack. The bees are more concerned with the effort of getting everyone home and safe, rather than bothering with us or Marty as he moves about them quite freely now. The cat at the neighbor’s cat is now mildly interested and gets a few feet closer, but somehow knows to stay on the log pile several feet away while observing us.

The frame is set up with an upper screen to allow air movement and then a hard frame to keep out the elements and allow stacking of frame boxes. At this point, Marty is carefully gathering up all of the leftover bees on the ground and pushing them gently into the hive with a very soft long-bristle brush that reminds me of an architect’s drawing brush. A few are harmed or killed in the process as we move around in the dark and accidentally step on one or two. Only a few have been harmed in the process considering the size of this hive. Marty is estimating 6-7 pounds based on his experience. Any that are left will either return to their original hive, which should be close by, or they will die without their queen. It’s important to get as many as possible with the decline that bees are currently experiencing world-wide. Every single one counts in this battle to save these gentle pollinators.

Once completed, Marty uses painters tape to seal up the hive while he transports them later in the evening. He still has to seal up the old hole and hive totally for the stragglers that might return. The goal is to send them back to their old hive if possible and not have them die in a location that is now without a queen. A few more minutes in the dark, up on the ladder to replace the board and seal the seams with painters tape again. Some permanent repairs need to be made along the entire perimeter to avoid this from happening again. In the meantime, with that work completed, we roll up the extension cords, put away all of the equipment and ladders and finally move the bee box into the back of the truck for transport. It’s just around 9 pm when I finally leave and Marty still has about another hour of work left before he can head home.

He comments that bee-keeping is a 24/7 job. I believe him. Honey is really a rare commodity. It takes thousands of miles of flying by each bee and endless hours of building a hive with countless perils from climate, chemicals, moving objects and predators to create a nectar that can last thousands of years safely. It is a golden gift from the smallest of creatures.

If you want to catch up with Marty or buy some of his delightful honey, check out the Carrboro Farmers Market on Wednesdays or the Southern Village Farmers Market on Thursdays.

Polenta Coconut Pudding with Seasonal Fruit

 

Whitted-Bowers Farm StrawberriesLast year I  had the opportunity to play around with a package of polenta. Now, as many of you know, I can eat some grits and I love cooking them with milk and cream, so I was up for the challenge of creating some new dishes with the finer cousin of the Southern Grit, Polenta.  I did a little reading on the differences in polenta and grits and found a couple of neat facts about the history of corn varieties and milling techniques that make each one different in flavor and texture.  The Anson Mills website had a huge amount of information and is still my favorite for understanding some critical differences as well as some insight into heirloom rice varieties. And while you are there, please take a couple of moments to read up on their sustainable farming practices.

While this recipe was made using imported polenta that was a gift from Olio2Go in one of my order boxes, I’m looking forward to receiving my order from Anson Mills of Southern-grown products shortly to use in recipes this summer. And since I have now picked my annual twenty-five pounds of strawberries, made jam, and put up some dehydrated slices that is what I’ve chosen to show you in this recipe. But blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are just around the corner!

The creamy texture and beautiful yellow color of the polenta I received had me thinking about pudding and after a little research with very few results, I decided to just try out a couple of combinations to get take the polenta from something savory to something sweet. After all, we use rice in both savory and sweet recipes, there’s no reason corn can’t be used interchangeably.

By default, this recipe ends up being vegan. It wasn’t that it was deliberate, but it just tastes light and lovely with coconut undertones using the coconut milk, coconut water and coconut oil. Each one imparts just a subtle flavor of its own to the finished dessert. I’ve served this chilled and slightly warm. My preference is slightly warm with cold fruit. The polenta sets up nicely as a pudding but the creamy texture and subtle corn flavor comes out more when it’s slightly warm. And who’s going to complain about a warm dessert once you start  drizzling local honey and adding the fresh fruit? I also think coconut ice cream with the fresh fruit, melting into the warm polenta would be just heavenly. Ok, now that I have your undivided attention, here’s how simple this is to make.

Basically, you are going to cook the polenta in about 15 minutes and at the end stir in your fruit, honey and top with toasted coconut and more fruit or ice cream. Don’t skip the salt in this recipe because corn needs salt and it balances the sweetness of the honey and the fruit. If you are adventuresome, add vanilla coconut ice cream to the pudding, or some finely chopped pineapple sages leaves as a garnish or use lavender infused sea salt with the strawberry version.  There is a strawberry & lavender jam recipe on this site that is just wonderful if you don’t believe me about that combination. You will note in the recipe that it calls for spring or early summer honey and here is why that is specified. Late summer-early fall honey has a lot of pollen from fall flowers and the flavor is much different from the lighter tones that you will find in honey during the first part of the year. It will make a difference when you combine those flavors with fruit that comes from a different season. If you try to make this with roasted pumpkin or sweet potatoes, it might be interesting to use the fall honey. Let me know if you do and how it turns out!  This recipe makes an ample serving for two.

Coconut Strawberry Polenta B

 

Polenta Pudding with Seasonal Fruit

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup polenta
  • 1 1/4 cups plain, unsweetened coconut water or coconut juice
  • 1 1/4 cups plain, unsweetened, full fat, coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen berries, sliced or rough chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons local spring or summer honey
  • 2 teaspoon strawberry jam (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted coconut (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely chopped pineapple sage (optional)

 

Preparation

  • Gently warm the coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil and salt in a stainless steel pan until it is simmering.
  • While stirring, slowly add the polenta and incorporate it into the liquid.
  • Continue to stir with a stiff silicon spatula, scraping down the sides of the pan as it begins to simmer. Turn the heat to medium/low and continue to cook and stir to avoid burning or sticking to the pan for around 10-15 minutes. The liquid should all be absorbed and the polenta should be thick and creamy, without lumps. It should be fairly thick with plenty of body, but not dried out when it is finished. It will be easy to fold over and stir and will not stick to the pan.
  • Fold in the chopped fruit (you can add some dehydrated sliced fruit too but it will need to cook and absorb some liquid to become soft in the pudding) and one tablespoon of the honey
  • Serve with a bit of jam, more fresh berries, the remaining 2 teaspoons of honey and some toasted coconut or other chopped nuts.

Notes