Chocolate honey & cream cheese croissants

This week marks the start of our new business as honey food producers.  We are starting small, building on a number of recipes using the raw honey that we love.  Our chocolate honey comes from my own love of raw honey and dark, pure chocolate.  It has become a bit of a mini sensation in my kitchen and with the small number of people we have asked to test it.  It’s not what you expect, and that’s what people love about it.  The art is in getting the right chocolate and honey match.  Our first recipe is a raw wildflower honey and cocoa and we will be launching it at our first food festival this Saturday – the Oundle Food Festive, one of the best one day food events in the UK and part of the Oundle Music Festival.  We’re really excited to be taking part.  This croissant recipe uses seasonal British strawberries, soft cream cheese and a generous drizzle of Castelete’s Chocolate Honey.  It’s absolutely gorgeous.

Simply use two strawberries per croissant, cut the croissants in half and spread a generous amount of cream cheese.  Place the strawberries on top, finish with our Chocolate Honey.  Our new website and online shop will be ready soon!

 

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Beekeeper diary: new year, new honey bees

2017: we decided in the New Year to invest in some new hives, book on some courses and to immerse ourselves more in beekeeping.

One piece of sage advice is: to get good at beekeeping, you need to have more equipment to grow your colony.  That means: more hives, more supers (supers are the shallower boxes that sit on top of the brood box – the supers help provide essential room for a growing colony, they help with swarm control and it is where the surplus honey for beekeepers can be harvested).

We purchased new hives from Simon the Beekeeper.  Our first hive was a beautiful cedar national hive, now well-worn, but still functional (and looks lovely too).  We have just located one of our new hives on another farm and will post an update once we have established our bees there.  Our new hives are called National Density Polyhives and are less expensive and thought to be healthier for bees as they offer good protection, so we wanted to try them out.  Mike has been busy painting them and putting the frames together in readiness.

Back to our first hive on the farm nearby.  This is our second Spring as beekeepers and still we have lots to learn.  We had extremely warm weather this Spring and it has created some early swarms.  A couple of weeks ago our mentor, Jeff, said he left the lid off our hive to see if we could attract a swarm.  We decided to stop by today to see how the hives (our hive as well as Jeff”s) were doing.  We had no intention of opening the hives as it’s too cold (around 15 degrees).

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Roasted tomato, chilli and adzuki bean soup

This soup is sensational!  I’ve been making this soup for a few years after reading it in the Drop Zone Diet by nutritionist and biochemist Jeannette Jackson. It fresh, spicy, satisfying and packed to the brim with goodness!  Jeanette says “The adzuki beans offer a good boost of protein, whilst the tomatoes are ready to work their antioxidant magic!”

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One of the key elements is to select the best tomatoes  – for this recipe I bought beautiful vine tomatoes from our local farm shop Farndon Fields.  Also, don’t be tempted to add more of any one ingredient.  I’ve done it a couple of times, thinking “oh it will be fine”. But with added celery it overpowers the soup and any extra adzuki beans is too much – 80g of beans provides the optimum texture for this soup.

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This is yet another fantastic recipe by Jeannette, the author of the Drop Zone Diet  and a perfect, flavoursome, wholesome soup to bet you back on a healthy track as we head into Spring.

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Butter bean, egg and spinach curry

As a family, we all enjoy a good curry.  Since I gave up meat and poultry in the summer, I’ve been experimenting with new curry recipes.  We often eat fish curries, but I wanted to try some new vegetarian recipes.  This one is inspired by my husband who first introduced me to the idea of putting an egg in a curry.  With the butter beans, this is a dense, satisfying dish.  The spinach is delicious and a perfect addition, along with the egg and butter beans, to boost iron levels.

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I use a tikka curry paste (Patak’s in this case) and a dollop of crème fraiche.  Strictly speaking, if you are looking to boost your iron, leave out the crème fraiche and replace with a dairy-free alternative.  Served with a glass of orange juice or a sprinkle of pomegranates will also give you the essential Vitamin C to help your body absorb the plant-based iron in this recipe.

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Pumpkin & parmigiana soup

Pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin, what could be better for Halloween?  This is a real centre piece and crowd pleaser that I have been making for years and my kids still love it.  There are a few tips I’ve learned along the way to get this right.  Before you do anything, pick the right pumpkin.  It should be fairly stable so it will sit nice and upright on the table.  This recipe uses a medium to large size pumpkin.  I also save the rinds from parmigiana or grana padano and pop them in the freezer ready to add to this recipe (it adds a beautiful rich flavour to the soup).

Pumpkin and parmigiana soup Pumpkin and parmigiana soup

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Beekeeper diary: honey harvest

One of the many great things about beekeeping, is the beekeeping community are very generous with their knowledge and time.  We always offer our time to Jeff to help out where we can as a way to thank him for his help and it also means we can get hands-on experience at beekeeping.

Today we travelled about 30 miles across the countryside, to a secret location! One that is home to a borage farm (borage flowers are loved by bees and the nectar produces the most delicate, light honey).  The borage had just been harvested by the farmer and it was time to harvest the honey.  The glorious golden frames, thick and heavy with capped borage honey is the most wonderful sight!

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Beekeeper Diary: Silent Bees

FullSizeRender At the start of Spring, all seemed well with our hive.  The hive had survived the winter and on a warm day we could see lots of activity outside the hive (we didn’t open the hive as we knew they had plenty of surplus honey to get them through the winter).  Our queen had been a super-egg-laying queen.  All last year she built her colony at a furious pace and we were delighted, albeit lucky, to have got such a brilliant queen from our mentor.

Shortly after our first Spring visit, we experienced two freak weather events in the space of a few weeks. The first was severe flooding around the farm, the second was a freak winter storm with heavy hail, snow and cold temperatures, which lasted only a day.  It concerned me and we checked on the hives after the flood – all was fine.  After the snow storm, the hive was quiet.  No bee activity at all, the first time we had seen this.  I called Jeff our mentor and he said not to worry too much as it was a cool evening and the bees were probably inside doing what they should have been doing – keeping inside and warm.

As it turns out, we did have problems with our hive.  On subsequent checks, it became obvious that our queen had stopped laying eggs.  Our super queen, had stopped building her colony and the bees were extremely depleted.  The reason?  It’s not clear.  Some beekeepers seem to think it may be the quality of the drones. Queens rely on one mating in the first year to last a few years, and if the drone quality is poor, she may not continue to produce eggs year after year.

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Fiorentina Spelt Pizza by Roger Saul

Is there anything better than an egg topped pizza?  I don’t think so.  As you can see from all these pictures, the Fiorentina Pizza is something that I make quite a lot.  The recipe is from the book Spelt by Roger Saul.

IMG_5333 Florentina Spelt Pizza

I first heard about spelt when I watched a farming debate on BBC Newsnight a few years ago.  Roger was talking about the work on his family farm Sharpham Park where they grow spelt.  He has led the revival of this grain in the UK and last year he brought out his beautiful Spelt cook book.

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Spelt is an ancient grain and is much different to other grains.  It is easier for us to digest and contains many beneficial nutrients.  It is a hardier grain, with a husk that protects it from the elements and also protects the nutrients within.  The gluten in spelt is thought to be more ‘fragile’ and water soluble which helps us digest it and avoid bloating.  It also has a much higher protein content than normal wheat bread, so appealing for those on a low-carb diet.  Other benefits include its high fibre content, lower GI (glycaemic index) for a slower energy release and naturally occurring vitamins – it’s high in vitamin B which is essential for our bodies to convert food into energy.  Spelt is a lovely light flour and makes the crispiests pizza doughs.

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Spelt pizza with flavour base

Homemade pizzas take a little effort but are very worth it!  I’ve been making them for years ever since one of my old friends Ozzy Pete, showed me the basics and a little trick he used to add serious Spelt pizza doughflavour.  The dough its self is very simple and I now always use white spelt flour which creates the lightest, crispiest pizza doughs.

The secret to added flavour?  Once you have made the pizza dough, add a layer of fresh ingredients and oil before you add the tomato base.  Once you start to make pizza doughs, it will become second nature.  I usually make the dough in the morning before I head out to work so it’s ready to start rolling when I come home.

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