For the love of honey

Freshly poured honey

Meeting the bee keepers

Known for both its culinary and health benefits, honey is one of nature’s true gifts. I wanted to find out more about how honey gets from the flower to our toast, so I headed off to a local honey producer in Charente Maritime, SW France where three generations of the same family have been producing honey for more than 50 years. Christian Robert along with his son and grandson were delighted to share their knowledge with me.

M. Robert, his son & grandson

‘Preparation begins in the winter’ he told me ‘whilst the bees are dormant’. Bees begin foraging for nectar in early spring as the first flowers begin to appear. They transform the pollen to honey in the combs and then cap it with a layer of wax where it remains until collected by the beekeeper. Once full the combs are removed for processing and replaced by new frames and the cycle continues throughout summer. Once collected the beekeeper removes the outer wax coating revealing the liquid honey beneath. It is filtered in an extraction machine, stored in barrels to separate off the sediment before being heated gently (below 40c) and poured into jars for selling.

So what is honey exactly

It is a highly concentrated sugar solution made up of 70% sugar (fructose and glucose) and less than 20% water plus vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Extracted honey can be liquid, crystalized (set honey) or partially crystalized and this crystallization is a natural occurrence that takes place when the percentage of glucose is higher than that of fructose.

Honey is categorised by the type of flowers from which the nectar is sourced. This is also what gives honey its flavour. The darker the honey the more intense the flavour.

Different honey varieties

Monofloral honey, considered a premium honey, is produced by nectar collected from just one flower source such as acacia, leatherwood, manuka, heather, orange blossom and other single flower varieties. It can be runny or set, light, dark, creamy or crystalline.

Polyfloral honey is made from the nectar of different flowers and is likely to be labelled simply as honey and again the colour and texture varies. Blended honey, also labelled just honey, is made by combining different flavoured honeys together and is usually the cheapest of all the types sold. The flavour of these is milder and I think, inferior. These honeys will have been heat-treated and possibly pasteurised.

Then we have ‘raw’ honey, so called due to the method of processing and must be 100% unprocessed, so once extracted it is warmed only enough to pour into jars and not enough to change it’s structure. Often sold directly from producers ‘raw’ honey is perhaps the most desirable of all honey, especially as there is now a growing demand by consumers for locally sourced honey.

The taste test

The best way to decide which type of honey you prefer is by tasting different ones, see what you like and what you don’t. As well as colour, the texture of honey differs too and is classified as creamy honey, set honey or a thin honey. Set honey is crystalline but this doesn’t mean that the honey is old or has ‘gone off’ it is just that the glucose content is higher than the fructose content. The flavour will remain the same.

Honeycomb

In cooking stick to runny honeys for salad dressings and marinades, as they are easier to combine with other ingredients. A thicker, darker honey is great in cake baking as this will add both flavour and moisture.

Over time all honey will set and crystalize, but it can easily be softened by warming it in a water bath or microwave. Honey will remain in the same state for up to 2 years but must be stored in a cool, dark place (not refrigerated) even once its been opened.

The health benefits

Of course honey is not only used in cooking it is also prized for its apparent health benefits. There has been much written and reported over the years to suggest honey can cure or aid everything from the common cold, sore throats, help with digestion, combat ulcers and more recently help prevent hay fever. ‘Raw’ locally produced honey is thought to be beneficial as it will contain minute quantities of the very flowers that give you the sniffles, gradually building up immunity.

Honey bees at work

It is a fact that ‘raw’ untreated honey retains all it’s original enzymes and antioxidants and has antibiotic and antimicrobial properties and protects against bacteria. Of all honeys, manuka honey is generally accepted as having the most health benefits due to a higher percentage of certain components it contains. In fact medical grade manuka honey is used to help heal wounds.

Because honey contains natural fruit sugars it means that our bodies absorb the energy they provide more quickly than other sugars, making them an ideal quick ‘energy fix’. It is important to remember though that any sugar should be consumed in moderation but if you are only going to eat one type of sugar today, make it honey on your toast.

Honey facts – things you never knew about honey and honeybees

  • Honeybees are the only insects that produce food for humans
  • They visit anywhere between 50 and 100 flowers on each trip
  • Honey is more than 1 to1.5 times sweeter than sugar therefore you need less in order to sweeten something
  • Honey is a natural antibiotic used for thousands of years to help soothe burns. The World Health Organisation lists it as a sore throat aid.
  • Honeybees communicate with each other by dancing
    Honeybees only sting when they are protecting their colony and not when they are foraging for nectar
Coloured hives so the bees can find their way home

The recipes

Rosewater and pistachio baklava pave

Serves: 10-12

Rosewater and pistachio baklava ice cream

100 g shelled pistachio nuts

50 g almonds

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons soft brown sugar

8 sheets filo pastry

50 g unsalted butter

grated zest and juice 1/2 lemon

200 g clear honey

2 tablespoons rose water

1 litre vanilla ice cream, softened

dried rose petals buds, to serve

Make the baklava. Preheat the oven to 180c/fan-forced 160c. Place the pistachio nuts, almonds and cinnamon in a food processor and blend until the nuts are coarsely ground. Stir in the sugar and reserve 4 tablespoons for serving.

Lightly oil 23cm square tin. Cut each pastry sheet in half and trim to fit into the tin. Brush each sheet with butter and press into the prepared tin to make 8 layers. Scatter over the nut mixture and then top with the remaining sheets of pastry, brushing with melted butter each time.

Brush over any remaining butter and bake at for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 160c/fan-forced140c and bake for a further 20-25 minutes until pastry is crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and using a skewer prick the surface all over the pastry.

Meanwhile, prepare the syrup. Place the lemon zest, juice, honey and 100ml water in a saucepan and heat gently until boiling. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the rose water. Immediately pour three quarters of the honey syrup over the baklava and leave to go cold in the tin.

Assemble the pavé. Turn the pastry out of the tin and cut in half. Spread a third of the ice cream into the base of a lightly oil 12×22 cm loaf tin and place one half of baklava on top. Repeat with the ice cream and remaining baklava and finally the remaining ice cream. Smooth the top and cover with cling film. Freeze overnight. Turn out cut into slices, drizzle over the remaining syrup and decorate with dried rose petals and reserved chopped nut

Coconut sesame prawns with honey sauce

Serves: 6

Coconut sesame prawns with honey sauce

100 g dried thin egg noodles

24 large raw prawns

2 tablespoons clear honey

2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine

2 cloves garlic, crushed

11/2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

a few coriander sprigs

vegetable oil, for deep frying

Place the noodles in a bowl and add boiling water to cover. Leave to soak for 20 minutes, drain well and pat dry on kitchen paper. Peel and de-vein the prawns and wrap 8-10 noodles around each. Deep-fry in 5 cm vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes until crisp and golden, turning half way through. Drain on kitchen paper and transfer to a warmed platter.

Make the sauce. Place honey, rice wine, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes and pour over the prawns. Garnish with sesame seeds and coriander.

Roasted chicken salad with warm honey dressing

Serves: 6

Roasted chicken salad with warm honey dressing

2 kg free range chicken, butterflied

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tbsp quatre epices (or mixed ground spice)

a drizzle honey

500 g sweet potatoes, peeled cut into cubes

1/2 red onion

parsley, mint, coriander

pomegranate seeds

dressing

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon clear honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon preserved lemon, diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander

1small red chilli, seeded and diced

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200c. Place chicken in a large bowl and rub. Combine the oil quatre epices, salt and pepper in a bowl and rub all over the chicken. Cook on a barbecue or grill pan for 20-25 minutes each side until cooked through, brushing over a little honey about 5 minutes before finished cooking (skin side only).

While the chicken is cooking, place the sweet potatoes in a roasting tin with a little oil, salt and pepper and roast for 45 minutes, stirring half way through until charred and tender.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Blitz together the oil, honey, lemon juice, preserved lemon and coriander and stir in the chilli and some salt and pepper to taste.

Cut chicken into pieces and toss with the dressing. Combine the sweet potatoes, spinach leaves, red onion and herbs in a bowl and toss well. Transfer to a platter. Pile the chicken in the middle drizzling any pan juices over the salad. Serve at once.

Herb infused honey pots – to give as gifts, small pots of honey flavoured with herbs such as fennel flowers, lavender, rosemary etc. Simply stir in your favourite flavours, seal and store until required.

All images © Ian Wallace

All recipes © Louise Pickford

Taken from my article first published by Food & Travel Magazine, August/September 2105


A change of blog details

Hello to all the followers of my blog A Food Stylist’s Blog. Firstly I would like to thank you all for following me and my posts over the last 3years.

As my life and business has evolved in France I am now finding that most of time is take up with running my Cookery School and all the spin offs from it – Come Cook In France – therefore I am now blogging directly from the website www.comecookinfrance.com

If you wish to continue following my posts and my life in France (and I really hope that you all will) please click on the link, go to the blog page and you can then subscribe there.

Again, thank you everyone.

Louise

 


Recipe of the week……….pork

Pork with spring greens

A lovely combination of tender pork fillet and mixed spring greens in a light buttery stock. Delicious with or without crème fraiche.

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Serves: 4

4 large slices Parma ham

2 x 350g pork tenderloin fillet

50g butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 leek, sliced

250g cabbage hearts

100g broccoli florets

250ml chicken stock

150g frozen peas

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as mint, chives and parsley

salt and pepper

crème fraiche, to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6. Lay the Parma ham slices flat on a board. Cut each pork tenderloin in half crossways to give 4 x 175g pieces. Season lightly with salt and pepper and wrap each one with the ham, securing in place with cocktail sticks.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and once hot, sear the pork fillets for 3-4 minutes until evenly browned. Transfer to a roasting tin and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and rest, covered for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt half the butter and gently fry the shallots, garlic, thyme and a little salt and pepper over a low heat for 5 minutes. Add the leeks, cabbage and broccoli and stir well then add the stock. Simmer gently, covered for 5 minutes. Add the peas and cook for a further 2 minutes.

Stir in the remaining butter and any pork juices, cover and let sit for 1 minute. Serve the pork with the vegetables and pan juices, with a little crème fraiche, if wished.

 

 


Upcoming food styling & photography workshop

“Come and join us in the beautiful French countryside for 6 days of cooking, styling, photography, eating, drinking and making friends. If it sounds perfect, well that’s because it is!”

custom-Custom_Size___Food Photography and Styling Workshop C

For anyone with a passion for food, food styling or food photography, this 6 day course is a perfect way to improve your skills as I join up with acclaimed food and lifestyle photographer Ian Wallace. This amazing course will take place in the stunning workshop accommodation venue Les Soeurs Anglaises in the Dordogne.

In June this year, Ian and I will be sharing all the knowledge we have gained from our years of experience working in food publishing. The course will include demonstrations, discussions and practical hands-on classes over the 6 days and covers all the skills needed to produce your own beautiful food images. Alongside the daily classes, all meals will be provided accompanied by wines from the region. There will also be a visit to local brocantes to source vintage props and time off to explore the local area, stunning villages and food markets.

“This is a totally immersive course for lovers of good food, budding food bloggers, food stylists and photographers, set in a truly beautiful setting with a relaxed ambience and wonderful food and wine”

Our workshops are the perfect platform for small business owners who want to improve the quality of their images for both website use and social media content. It can help chef’s looking to market themselves and their food. Food bloggers who want to improve their food styling and photographic skills. Even food stylist looking to get involved in the food publishing industry. Lovers of good food and wine with a penchant for France and all it’s charm.


What’s on offer 

We have access to really beautiful settings where we can shoot on location

We will learn how to prepare and cook food, style it and plate it for a perfect food shot.
You can only take a beautiful still life image of an ingredient if you can source them in the first place. We shop at local food markets or help ourselves to home grown veggies.

The Venue

The course is hosted Katie Elliot Armitage co/owner of the fabulous workshop accommodation venue Les Soeurs Anglaises in the Dordogne in South West France. Katie has been running workshops here for over 10 years and after many successful textile and music workshops Katie is looking to offer more food and wine based courses. Set on the outskirts of a pretty French town, the venue nestles in beautiful gardens, surrounded by rolling hills and fields full of sunflowers, cereals and sweetcorn. The stunning workshop is in a converted barn with cathedral ceilings and a vast wall of glass that opens up to invite the outdoors in. The atmosphere is one of calm seclusion, a perfect environment for learning, relaxing, entertaining and eating.

 

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A hint at what lies beyond the two huge workshop doors – this is a truly beautiful environment in which to work – it will inspire you.

 

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And then of course, after all the hard work is done, there will be plenty of time to kick back and enjoy the pool and other recreational area of the property.

 


Itinerary

Each workshop is bespoke. We like to look at what is going on at the time in the local area so we can take you out to photograph a market, producers or festivals depending on what is happening. We can also use the extensive grounds or the workshop at our accommodation. That said, all courses include the following criteria in order to ensure you get the maximum information in order to create your own stunning images.

 

custom-Custom_Size___Food photography and Styling Workshop A

Ian going through some of the basics of setting up a food shot

Getting to grips with your DSLR camera and look at composition

Sourcing props at home…… and at the local brocante
How to prepare and cook food for photography

Shooting light and dark and how it affects food

 


What is included

Six days/seven nights in one of the beautiful ensuite rooms at Les Souers Anglaises

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Double ensuite bedroom

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Twin ensuite bedroom

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One of the two lovely pools

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided. Breakfast by the pool with locally sourced pastries, fresh juices. A light salad lunch and a three course dinner with wines form the region.


Tuition

As well as the above, all your tuition costs with internationally acclaimed food photographer Ian Wallace and food writer, stylist and cook book author Louise Pickford.

There will be hands on practical shoots, outdoors when possible with all the food and props provided.

At the end of the stay you will receive a handout package including a copy of all the images and all the recipes.


Dates 

 

The course runs from June 6th – June 11th

 


Prices

A: Luxury double bedroom en suite (single occupancy) : £2450

B: Luxury double bedroom en suite (shared occupancy)£1950

C: Standard twin bedroom with shared bathroom (single occupancy)£2100 

D: Standard twin bedroom with shared bathroom (shared occupancy)£1550

For the Food Styling & Photography Workshop we require a £400 non-refundable deposit to secure a booking, the full balance being payable two months prior to the start of the workshop.

Flights are not included but we can arrange to collect you from Bordeaux or Bergerac airports or from the train station at Angouleme, this has a direct high speed train link from Paris.

 


Your tutors

Louise Pickford has been writing about and styling food for over 25 years in both London and Sydney, where she was involved in recipe writing and development, styling the props as well as the food for shoots. She became  food editor on several glossy magazine as well as styling a host of books for Bauer Media’s Woman’s Weekly titles. Recently Louise and Ian relocated to SW France where they continue to work together for clients around the world including Delicious Magazine Australia, the UK and Holland, Food & Travel Magazine, Grazia UK and The Mail on Sunday. She has written more than 30 cookery books to date, including over a dozen for bespoke publishers Ryland, Peters & Small.

Ian Wallace has built a very successful career working in both London and Sydney for clients that included all the main book publishers, and top food  magazine titles and Sunday newspaper supplements, shooting a mixture of editorial, packaging and advertising, clients including Marks and Spencer, Vogue Entertaining and Travel, Delicious Magazine Australia and UK, Gourmet Traveller, The Mail on Sunday and Food and Travel Magazine as well as photographing many book titles for Bauer Media and News Life Media and Ryland Peters and small.

 

BOOK SOON TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT

For more information about the accommodation, course or to book please go to Les Soeurs Anglaises


Recipe of the week……………….spelt.

Mushroom spelt risotto with melted camembert

Spelt is one of the world’s oldest wheat grain varieties. It is great as an alternative to rice in a risotto as it retains a wonderfully crunchy texture and unlike rice, you can add the stock all at once and let the risotto simmer away on the stove – making it low maintenance as well as delicious.

Spelt and Mushroom risotto 2

Serves: 4

300 g spelt grains

15 g dried porcini

150 ml boiling water

100 g butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbs chopped fresh thyme

500 g mixed mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped

150 ml red wine

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

50 g Parmesan, grated

150 g Camembert, sliced

salt and pepper

freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Soak the spelt grains in boiling water for 20 minutes. Soak the porcini in the boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain spelt and shake dry. Drain and chop the mushrooms, reserve the liquid.

Melt half the butter in a saucepan and gently fry the onion, garlic and half the thyme over a low heat for 10 minutes until soft but not browned. Add the mushrooms and porcini and stir-fry until starting to soften. Add the spelt and stir for 1 minute then pour in the wine and boil until it is all but absorbed.

Meanwhile bring the stock and reserved porcini liquid to the boil in a separate pan. Add 750 ml to the risotto and cook gently over a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stock is almost absorbed and the spelt, tender. Add a little more stock if needed (any left over stock can be reserved, chilled in the fridge for up to 3 days).

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan and half the Camembert, cover and leave to melt for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a small frying pan and add the remaining thyme leaves. Cook gently over a low heat for 2-3 minutes until the butter turns a golden brown. Serve the risotto topped with the remaining camembert and drizzled with the thyme butter.

Tip: Spelt is available from larger supermarkets as well as health food stores.