Tag Archives: sweet

Honey honey, how you thrill us

It’s succulent and sweet, dripping golden from the spoon. Its viscosity causes it to move in slow motion and its natural colors sparkle in the sun. It both brightens the palate and strengthens the body.

There is nothing quite like honey, the result of natural processes and hard labor on the part of busy bees everywhere. Although a small part of the agricultural industry overall, honey plays a valuable role in nutrition, according to Andy Hemken, owner of Hemken Honey Co., which commercially produces honey from 530 hives near Big Bend and helped install and maintains the observation beehive at the Milwaukee County Zoo. 

“Honey is a natural sweetener that easily absorbs into the bloodstream,” says Hemken, also the former president of the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association. “Athletes can use honey before, during and after competitions because it’s a pure carbohydrate that doesn’t take time for the body to digest.”

In addition, honey is a natural sweetener and emulsifier, acting as an effective thickening agent for sauces and dressings. It is a natural cough suppressant and humectant, meaning that it attracts and maintains moisture, which makes it a go-to ingredient for many skin care products. 

Bees produce honey as they extract nectar from flowers, which they inject with enzymes to break it down into simple sugars that are stored in the cells of the honeycomb. The pollination of the flowers is actually a happy byproduct of their efforts, according to the National Honey Board, a trade organization based in Firestone, Colorado.

Once in the comb, rapid fanning by the bees’ wings causes much of the nectar’s liquid to evaporate, which leads to honey’s viscous texture. The honey is kept and stored as food for the bee colony, although beekeepers, known as apiarists, also harvest and sell it as an agricultural product. 

In the end, the small amounts of pollen that find their way into the honey are most often filtered out as the honey is heated and refined to remove impurities. Honey may eventually change color, and its aroma and flavor may fade, but as a food product it can last for decades.

Until recently, Wisconsin was among the top 10 honey producing states. The state fell to 15th place in 2014 after a brutal winter destroyed a significant number of hives along with native vegetation on which the bees depended, according to a National Agricultural Statistics Service report.

Wisconsin honey production fell 21.2 percent to $664 million compared to 2013, the report said. It was the largest decline since 1999, when production declined more than 30 percent, but was the first time Wisconsin dropped out of the top 10.

An estimated 55 percent of the state’s hives were wiped out between October 2013 and April 2014, according to a state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection study. A continued loss of forage area also has affected production by the state’s honey colonies, which now number roughly 53,000, a decline of 10 percent in 2014.

Unbridled use of pesticides also has taken its toll on bee populations, both in Wisconsin and the rest of the country, Hemken says.

“The bees are dying,” says Hemken, who notes that nationwide bees pollinate an estimated $19 billion worth of crops each year in the process of gathering nectar. “This is a serious problem.”

Hemken and other apiarists sell bee packages, each generally consisting of one queen and 6,000 worker bees, to other growers in an attempt to slow the bee population’s decline. Last year he sold more than 1,000 such packages, and he knows beekeepers who sell many more.

Wisconsin beekeepers also are working more diligently with owners of prairies, orchards and, in Hemken’s case, several pumpkin patches to maintain pollination relationships that aren’t threatened by pesticide usage that could be fatal to the bees. 

Focusing bee populations on specific varieties of blossoms also helps cultivate the varietal nature of honey, Hemken says.

There are about 300 varietal honey types in the United States, according to Hemken. “Southeast Wisconsin is a good spot for honeybees because there are so many flowers.”

Hemken’s favorite is honey produced from the blossoms of the tupelo tree, native to southern Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. The resulting honey is almost white or lightly amber, with a mild favor and pleasant aroma. Unlike some other honeys, tupelo honey doesn’t granulate.

“Buckwheat honey also is really good and has a strong, individualized taste,” Hemken adds. However, “it’s hard to find locally produced buckwheat honey.”

Other popular types include alfalfa honey, which is light both in color and flavor; avocado honey, with a dark color and rich, buttery taste; blueberry honey, imbued with a natural blueberry flavor; clover honey, which comes in a variety of flavors and colors based on the type of clover the bees visited; and orange blossom honey, which boasts the distinctive flavor and aroma of its namesake flower.

The most often seen type, wildflower honey, is really a catchall for honey made by bees that have foraged far and wide, grabbing whatever nectar they could find from whatever flowers they came across.

“My bees are rascals and they go everywhere,” Hemken says. “Wildflower honey is generally the result.”

Seek the savory side of chocolate in the new year

While I still pay attention to what I eat during the holidays, I nonetheless allow plenty of small splurges. And those splurges mostly can be summed up in one word: chocolate!

Trouble is, the holidays eventually pass, but my cravings for the deep flavor of a perfectly-roasted cocoa bean linger. Even more than the sweetness that accompanies most chocolate desserts, I miss the unctuous coating cocoa leaves on the palate. But who says healthy eating must mean the end of that deliciousness? Enter unsweetened chocolate! All the richness of the flavor without the sugar.

My healthy chocolate-eating strategy has me leaning toward savory dishes because they need no sugar for me to appreciate the wonderful flavor of the cocoa. Among the most classic choices — and one of my favorites — is Mexican mole, a thick, spicy sauce based on cocoa or chocolate that traditionally takes a couple of days to develop its rich flavors.

But I have four hungry kids who aren’t willing to wait days for chocolate, sweet or savory. So I have developed a version of mole that takes under an hour. Does it capture all the flavor of a two-day mole? Nope. But for a recipe that shaves 47 hours off my labor, I think it still does a pretty darned good job.

And you can take comfort in knowing that you’re getting all the delicious benefits and satisfaction of chocolate without the pesky sugar. Chocolate in the New Year? Yes, indeed. All in the name of health.


Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 4

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

15-ounce can diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped chipotles in adobo (more or less according to heat preference)

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1/2 cup prune juice (or 1/4 cup chopped pitted prunes)

1 1/4 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon almond butter or peanut butter

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

Squeeze of lime (1 to 2 teaspoons)

Fresh cilantro, chopped, to serve

Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.

In a large saute pan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the chicken and brown until golden on all sides, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Return the pan to medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander and cinnamon, then cook, stirring, until very fragrant, another 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and let cook for 3 more minutes. Add the chipotles, orange zest and prune juice, then cook an additional minute, stirring.

Add the stock and let simmer until the onion is fairly soft, about 5 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool for several minutes. Pour or spoon carefully into a blender, then add the almond butter, chocolate and lime juice. Let sit for a minute in the hot liquid. Blend carefully _ low at first, then at higher speed _ until the sauce is smooth, about 1 minute. Add more stock if the sauce is too thick.

Return the chicken to the pan (no need to clean it) and pour the sauce over the chicken. Heat over medium until the chicken is cooked through, another 8 to 10 minutes. Serve with rice and beans and top with cilantro.

Nutrition information per serving: 430 calories; 190 calories from fat (44 percent of total calories); 21 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 105 mg cholesterol; 26 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 11 g sugar; 39 g protein; 690 mg sodium.

Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the upcoming cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy.” http://www.melissadarabian.net.

Pumpkins are for more than carving

Those who like to play with their food need look no further than the pumpkin, the most familiar and fun member of the gourd family.

Ranging from softball-sized “pie pumpkins” to the mammoth 2,032-pound, record-breaking gourd raised last year in California, pumpkins come in all sizes — as well as shapes and colors. You can carve them into jack-o-lanterns or simply let them sit around as part of your fall décor.

Best of all, you can eat pumpkins — and you should. Their nutritional value far outweighs their role in fall decorating. Just about every part of a pumpkin is edible, including the shell, the pulp, the seeds, the leaves and even the flowers, which play a significant role in Southwestern and Mexican cuisine.

The orange skin is a dead giveaway that America’s favorite squash is rich in vitamin C and loaded with beta-carotene, which helps reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and protect against heart disease. 

Pumpkin seeds, which so many of us roast and eat, have nutritional value. Second only to peanuts in protein, pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids and zinc.

Farmers in the U.S. produce an estimated 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins annually, and this year’s crop should be no different. Top states for pumpkin production include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California. In fact, the Illinois Department of Agriculture claims that roughly 95 percent of all pumpkins used to produce canned pie filling come from our southern neighbor. Who knew?

What can you use pumpkin for? Pies, of course, especially since Thanksgiving is not that far away. But there are other uses as well, and here are some recipes to prove that you can have pumpkin for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Savory pumpkin soup

Cold weather means soup to us, and nothing is more appropriate to the season than a robust pumpkin soup to warm you inside and out. You’ll need:


28 oz. fresh pumpkin meat, cubed

2 large red onions, finely chopped

2 carrots, chopped

24 oz. water

2 tbsps. coconut oil

1 tbsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. paprika

1 can coconut milk

Pumpkin seeds for garnish


Fry the chopped onions with the coconut oil in a large pan until the onions are soft and slightly translucent. Add pumpkin and carrots and fry for 10 minutes.

Combine the nutmeg, turmeric and paprika with 1 teaspoon of water in a cup, then add to the pan and sautée the vegetables in the spices for one minute.

Add the remaining water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add the can of coconut milk and bring back to a boil 5-10 minutes, then simmer a few minutes more.

Remove from heat and cool. Blend in batches in a food processor to a medium viscosity — too thick, and the flavors will muddle under the texture; too thin, there’s not enough texture to carry them. Serve in bowls or cups with a pumpkin seed garnish.

Pumpkin and black bean burgers

Veggie burgers can be a challenge, but these take the best of the season, mix it with a little Southwestern flavoring and serve it up American style. Whole wheat buns are a must. For the patties, you will need:


½ cup pumpkin purée 

2 tbsps. olive oil

1 tsp. chili powder

¼ tsp. garlic powder, or 2 garlic cloves

½ tsp. cumin

½ tsp. coriander

¾ tsp. sea salt

1 cup cooked and cooled brown rice

1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained 

2 tbsps. flax meal

1/3 cup oat flour

Coconut oil sufficient to cook the patties


Combine the pumpkin, oil, spices and salt in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the brown rice, flax meal, oat flour and half of the beans and pulse until the mixture is thick and lumpy. Add the rest of the beans and pulse a few times just to break the lumps. 

Divide the mixture into 4-5 patties about ½ inch thick. Place the patties in the freezer for no more than 5 minutes to firm them up. Heat the coconut oil in a skillet and cook the patties for 2-3 minutes on each side until a golden crust forms. Wrap, then refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.  

Pumpkin spice pancakes

We have the inimitable Martha Stewart to thank for the genesis of this recipe, which means you will like it. You will need:


¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup whole-wheat flour

2 tbsps. brown sugar

2 tsps. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

Pinch of ground ginger

Pinch of ground cloves

1 cup milk

½ cup canned pumpkin

1 egg

2 tbsps. vegetable oil or melted butter


Whisk together flours, salt, spices, sugar and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg, pumpkin and vegetable oil or melted butter.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Don’t overbeat the batter; it’s OK if you have a few lumps. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes while heating the skillet. 

Over low-medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter or vegetable oil in the pan. Once skillet is hot, spoon a heaping 2 tablespoons of batter per pancake into the skillet. When pancakes start to bubble, carefully flip over.

Once the pancakes are browned and cooked through, place them on a oven-proof plate and place in the oven at 200 degrees to keep them warm while you prepare the rest.

Serve with whipped cream and cinnamon sugar or maple syrup.

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Dolly Parton wants to adopt abandoned ‘Dolly the dog’

Dolly Parton wants to take an unlikely fan home.

“Dolly” the dog was abandoned after the country music legend’s performance at the Glastonbury festival last month.

The lurcher, which has fluffy white hair, was seemingly left behind after the 150,000 decamped the site in the southwest of England.

Parton has pledged to adopt the dog, which animal shelter workers named in her honor.

Dolly is being treated for an ear infection at the Happy Landings animal shelter, which is near the festival site and is appealing for donations.

The shelter says in a statement that Dolly – the dog that is – is a “sweet-natured older lady” and that it is waiting for her owner to come forward.