Armenian honeyed rice pudding in the slow-cooker

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You may remember me mentioning my disastrous first attempt at making (burning) Armenian rice pudding for my book group. You may also remember my new craze for slow cooking. Today I decided to try my first slow-cooked Armenian rice pudding, since I am promised that this way there could be no chance of it burning.

I didn’t use my haybox, fond though I am of it – I was recently given a secondhand Cookworks slow-cooker, so the rice pudding was the first test for my new kitchen equipment.

The result? 10 points for the Armenians and 10 points for the slow-cooker. I put all the ingredients in the crockpot together and left it to click on and off unsettlingly in the corner of the kitchen. Two hours later I had a perfectly tender rice pudding. If anything, it was a little sweet (a rare criticism from me) so next time I would either reduce/ remove the sugar or/ and serve the pudding with some tart fruit like plums.

Ingredients

1.5 cup water

1 cup rice

4 cups milk

0.5 cup honey

0.25 cup sugar

Put all of these ingredients into the slow cooker and leave for two hours. At the end, stir in a teaspoon of vanilla and sprinkle half a teaspoon of cinnamon over the top.

For more honey recipes, honey tasting notes, and stories behind extraordinary honeys, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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The cranberry honey pudding and the haybox slow cooker

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When I made a steamed oat honey pudding last year, one of the comments on my blog suggested that a greener approach to steaming would be heat retention cooking. So today, I confected a ‘haybox*’ (*no actual hay included) with the idea of using that rather than burning electricity for an hour for the cranberry and honey pudding I’ve loved steaming before. I’d read an account of how to make your own ‘haybox’ while I was researching for an article on green cooking (published in the English Prishtina Insight newspaper but available online in Albanian) and if the name conjures up hippies and homesteading, let me reassure you that this was made from a cardboard box lined with ripped up newspapers and a chipped pizza box, then wrapped in an old eiderdown – an urban take on the casserole classic.

Unfortunately, it would be untruthful to tell you that the pudding actually ‘cooked’ in the retained heat haybox, though it retained its heat impressively. I think I was probably too ambitious for my first round of retained heat cooking, but I’ve bonded strangely with this old box-in-a-blanket, and am thinking of all the other food I can prepare in it – rice pudding, porridge, bean stew… The websites devoted to heat retention cooking assure you that if you put the warm ingredients in before you leave for work, ‘your supper will be waiting for you when you get home’, as if it’s not just a strawbox you’re building, but a wife.

Meanwhile, here’s the recipe for a pudding that tastes good enough to be worth burning an hour of fossil fuels.

For the pudding:

2 cups dried cranberries

1.5 cups flour (I don’t mean to brag about my green credentials, but I should mention that I used half wheat flour, bought at the supermarket, and half barley flour, ground in a watermill in a village in Kosovo I visited last year :-))

1 tsp bicarb of soda

0.5 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp salt

2/3 cup honey

1/3 cup hot water.

For the honey sauce:

0.5 cup butter

2/3 cup honey

2 tbsp flour

2 eggs, beaten slightly

0.5 cups lemon juice

225g creme fraiche

Mix dry ingredients. Mix together honey and water and stir into fruit mixture. Pour into a heatproof bowl and set the bow on a rack in about 3cm water in a large bot. Heat the water to a simmer, and cover and steam for an hour.

While the pudding is cooking, prepare sauce. Combine butter, honey, flour and eggs in a double boiler over simmering water. Heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens; do not boil. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and creme fraiche.

For more honey recipes, honey tasting notes, and stories behind extraordinary honeys, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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An Irish recipe for easy honey mousse

Last year we had a blissful holiday in Ireland in a thatched cottage with a quirky DVD collection, a board game called Class War (we played it a few times and the Marxists always won) and a collection of soup-stained recipe books in the kitchen, including one called A Taste of Ireland by Theodora Fitzgibbon. I wrote down the book’s simple recipe for honey mousse and now that I’m equipped with a working electric whisk I’ve had a go at making it. It’s come out as a light and very sweet dessert – I will serve it in very small portions, and next time I’d make it with something to stop it from being cloying; perhaps with grated ginger or served with some tart peaches or plums.

The ingredients are simple – just 225g honey and 2 eggs.

Mix egg yolks with honey. Cook on a low heat until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and let it cool. Whisk egg whites until stiff and fold in. Leave for several hours before serving.

For more honey recipes, honey tasting notes, and stories behind extraordinary honeys, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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Orange, honey and poppy seed roulade. A little less January

Today I wanted to cheer up a January day, and thought I’d have a go at improving a recipe I first came across when I was writing my book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, at a time when I was hungry for any Kosovan recipe where I could use my honey. I included this roulade as one of the recipes in my book, though it wasn’t one of my favourites – it called for rum and walnuts, which aren’t ingredients I particularly enjoy (in fact when I made it the first time, for Women’s Day as I describe in my book, I had to go out and buy the rum specially, and the rest of the bottle sat in our drinks cupboard, gathering dust like the Estonian mint liquor and the raki-with-a-wooden-cross-inside-the-bottle until the day we cleared out our house.)

This time I thought I’d improvise Muscat pudding wine in place of rum, and mix some poppy seeds with the walnuts. It was a chance to use my new electric whisk too, and turned out to be good activity to perk me up – grating orange rind is an aromatherapy pick-me-up experience in itself, and there’s nothing like feeling you’ve improved on a design. I put some Charlie Parker on and shimmied a bit as I stirred the melted butter and folded the rich mixture and altogether felt a little less January.

The poppy seed gave a fabulous texture. If I was making it again, with the more subtle flavours of the poppy seeds I’d add rather more honey, pudding wine and orange juice – and skip the vanilla (but it’s considered unthinkable to make a Kosovan dessert without vanilla sugar, so maybe this won’t do).

Ingredients

10g yeast

165ml milk

35g sugar

450g plain flour

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

35g melted butter

35ml pudding wine

the juice and rind of an orange

a pinch of salt

165g poppy seeds mixed with ground walnuts

1 tbsp vanilla sugar

1tbsp honey

 

Mix yeast with 15ml lukewarm milk and a pinch of sugar and flour.  Leave in a warm place until the mixture starts to ferment.

Meanwhile, sift the flour and make a well in the centre.

Add the egg yolk, sugar, butter, wine, 80 ml of milk, the orange juice and rind, and the salt.

Mix, adding the fermented yeast.

Place the resulting dough in a warm place for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the poppy seeds/ walnuts in 70 ml milk.

Whisk the white of the egg until it is firm.

When the walnut mixture is cool, fold in the egg white and the yolk, the vanilla, and honey.

When the dough has had 25 minutes to prove, roll it to a thickness of 1 cm on baking paper. (It’s clearly classier if you can roll it out in a neat rectangle, but since I can never manage this, I rolled it out into a circle, followed the directions below, and then chopped off the uneven ends once the strudel had been rolled up)

Spread the walnut mixture over the dough, leaving a 2cm margin at each edge.

Roll the dough like a Swiss roll and turn out on a greased baking sheet. (If you rolled it out the untidy way like me, now cut off the ragged ends, and you can lay them, with any loose poppy seed mixture sprinkled on top, like little Danish pastries, flat on the baking tray. They will cook more quickly, so check them in the oven as they will probably be ready after about 10 minutes)

Leave for 10 minutes and then put in a 200 degree oven. Turn the oven down after 10 minutes and bake for a total of 25 minutes.

Serves 6

For more honey recipes, honey tasting notes, and stories behind extraordinary honeys, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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The Neighbourhood 29 beekeeper; the honey of hope

girl stands in a road of mud and snow by fences of old oil drums

The Ideas Partnership, the charity I co-founded and volunteer with in Kosovo, does much of its work in Neighbourhood 29, a Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community in a suburb of Pristina. The families we work with scrabble out an existence from begging in the city (women – and children) or from going through the garbage bins (men – and children) looking for recyclable, resellable or edible scrap. Though it’s a hive of activity, it’s not a natural haven for bees*

But there is nevertheless a house (one of the smarter homes, on the edge of the community – with a real fence, not just surrounded with old car doors and flattened oil drums) where I spotted a sign in Albanian announcing We sell honey. It seemed unlikely – the house looks out at the barbed wire fence of the salt factory which is built on the cheap land this side of the tracks, and backs on to the rubbish heap where the children we support into school can sometimes be seen playing. Where is the honey here? Where are the blooms?

Today, on the way back from taking one of the children we work with to the doctor,  paying the women in our micro-finance soapmaking project, and sorting out adult literacy classes which start this week, I stopped off to see whether this miracle of advertised abundance could really be true. Or was it just a sales point for some shoddy product? (After all, the sign didn’t claim that the honey was made there. I once rented a house in a village in England where a man had a nice little business going to Lidl and buying economy jams which he decanted into reused jars with a handwritten label, and sold in his front garden for three times the Lidl price; and not a word of a lie – or indeed any claim at all – as to where the jam was made).

When I rang the bell today, a man came out and smiled when he heard that I was here for honey. Yes, yes, that would be no problem – he ushered me inside. As if the question had just occurred to me, I asked him, ‘and is it made here?’ Oh yes, he assured me again, and pointed to the corner of the yard. To my amazement I saw there a neat line of six or seven wooden box hives.

I still can’t guess what the bees find to forage on. Sampling the honey (a mellow, rich scent; a great liquid consistency, an amber colour, the same shade as a rusty oil drum) gives me no clue either. It’s tasty though – not just the sugary drool of glucose syrup, but something citrussy with caramel aftertaste.

And even more than being a flavoursome jar of sweetness, I take this as a metaphor; the honey of hope. Those bees can find enough material here to produce a healthy high-quality product, so we humans should be able to do something equally transformational. I think about the kids I saw today on their way home from school, the women working to make a living from the soapmaking project, the teenagers taking a second chance to learn their alphabet. Nobody doubts the effort required, but what the colonies of bees reminded me today is that – little by little – sweet, sticky miracles are possible.

For more honey tasting notes, stories behind extraordinary honeys, and recipes, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

 

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*you can get an idea of what the neighbourhood looks like from the photographs produced by the children who took part in our summer programme taking stunning pictures to present their community at http://www.neighbourhood29.com

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Honey bircher muesli – ‘food of the sunlight’

I’ve always connected bircher muesli with good health of the self-flagellating kind, and it’s only while writing this today that I’ve realised that that’s because of the subliminal connection with birch rods. Which have nothing really to do with its name, which comes from a nineteenth century Swiss physician, Dr Bircher, a believer in the power of what he called ‘food of the sunlight’ (fruit and vegetables rather than meat) for health.

His trademark breakfast ‘of the sunlight’ is one of my favourite, and depends on soaking oats in fruit juice and honey for 24 hours to make them moist and lovely, before mixing them with cream and fruit. Tempting? Well, if you make it now it will be ready for a brilliant start to Monday morning, so here’s the recipe…

(makes 2 portions)

100g oats

40g coarse ground mixed nuts (I used almonds and walnuts)

1 apple, peeled and coarsely grated

165ml orange juice

30g dried fruit (I used raisins and dates)

50g honey

Mix the ingredients together and leave for 24 hours

Then mix with 30ml creme fraiche, 50g yoghurt and seeds of one pomegranate (or equivalent amount of other fruit).

For more honey recipes, honey tasting notes, and stories behind extraordinary honeys, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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Raspberry blossom honey from Romania

I bought this honey in a market in Cluj Napoca in the autumn. It’s a fine, straw-coloured liquid honey with a powerful butterscotch scent. This really could be Werther’s Original Honey.

 

The taste is more complex, though still delicious. Surprisingly, given that candied fragrance, it’s less sweet than other honeys, and it has a mellow fruitiness like stewed quince. It would work well with fruity desserts like my favourite theatrical fruit recipe, pears en papillote, with stewed apple and ginger or as part of my cheat’s honey pastry for apple pie. Alternatively, it would team deliciously with nuts in Russian dessert or in the Irish oaten honeycomb recipe, or soaking loukoumades.

 

You get the idea – I’m enthusiastic about this honey. Just need to find a way to get back to Romania now, since the jar I bought there is emptying fast.

 

For more honey tasting notes, stories behind extraordinary honeys, and recipes, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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