ANNA HERMAN, FOR THE INQUIRERPublished Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 9:35 AMCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Back-to-school energy pervades September - even decades past graduation. For Jews around the world, this sense is heightened by the overlapping of the Jewish New Year.
Rosh Hashanah, literally "head of the year," celebrates ending and beginning again. As part of the annual High Holiday rituals of taking stock, making amends, and looking forward there are opportunities for feasting and fasting, and always there are wishes for a "sweet new year."
That translates at the table to a widespread tradition of eating apples and honey, and other treats at the holiday table.
The autumn honey harvest from local beekeepers is perfectly timed for showcasing dishes made with this amber nectar, from savory roasts to glazed cakes.
Honey adds a delicate floral note to salad dressing, enlivens and counters spices, and heightens the contrasts of acids and bitterness in marinades or sauces for meat and poultry.
As I harvested honey this fall from my backyard hives, I was determined to figure out how to feature honey in every dish on my holiday tables. Just as each new school year is another chance to build on what you've learned and to try something new, I look back to tradition and seasonal ingredients for inspiration, but always resolve to try something new.
While many of us don't eat so much red meat these days, beef brisket is still a favorite centerpiece for a holiday meal. There are several local producers of grass-fed brisket, which makes it even more appealing.
Brisket always tastes better a day or two after it is cooked, and reheats perfectly. And it is such an agreeable cut of meat: It's delicious hot out of the oven, or at room temperature for the last person through the buffet, or cold out of the fridge the next day in sandwiches.
But how to add honey to this dish while keeping the savoriness that makes meat so toothsome? The answer I found was balsamic vinegar to provide some balance. The result: a savory, juicy, and not-too-sweet dish with lots of flavorful gravy.
Not eating red meat? Roast a whole chicken, or legs and thighs, marinated in a blend of honey, mustard, lemon rind, lemon juice, and rosemary with dried apricots or prunes. Succulent, moist and crispy chicken complimented by sweet fruit.
Vegetable main and side dishes and salads offer many possibilities for honey in a featured or supporting role. Spicy-sweet carrot coins - sliced rounds of fresh-picked carrots, simmered with chunks of fresh ginger and spicy Aleppo peppers, finished with wildflower honey, are festive for any fall meal. Onions, with their natural sweetness, sliced thin, quick fried, and honey-glazed go nicely with fish, meat or green vegetables. Many of the slightly bitter greens such as escarole or kale, wilted lightly, benefit from a honey-scented vinaigrette.
If you want to get fancy and impress your family and friends, simmer honey in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until the hard-crack stage of 300 degrees. Toss in a few salted nuts or seeds - almonds, pistachios, walnuts, sesame seeds - and spread on a parchment-lined sheet pan to cool. This honey brittle can be chopped for a garnish for seasoned rice or couscous, or tossed with blanched green beans. Make extra to snack on, or bring as hostess gifts.
Dessert is the most obvious home for honey. Drizzle it on some ripe, sliced fruit to dress it up for company. Poach peaches or plums in honey and riesling wine. Roast or pan-sear plums, peaches, or figs with a bit of honey to caramelize, sweeten, and soften the fruits.
You can serve fruit as is, or alongside a honey cake. I have graduated from basic Bundt cakes and now own several heavy bee-themed and honeycomb-shaped cake pans. I feel obligated to come up with a new honey cake recipe each year. For this new year I developed a vanilla tahini honey cake - no dairy, so Jews who don't eat dairy with meat meals can serve this with their brisket. This cake goes nicely with roasted plums., or fresh raspberries (or whipped cream if dairy is not your concern).
My honeybees and I share in this sweet work, and hope to do so year after year.
Tahini Vanilla Cake
Makes 8-10 servings
5 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup good-quality tahini
1/4 cup olive or other vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
11/2 teaspoon baking powder
Fresh fruit or pan- seared or roasted fruit such as Italian plums, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a standard 12-cup bundt cake pan, or Nordic Ware honeycomb cake pan, well-greased and floured.
2. Place eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment and beat until the mixture is very light and smooth, at least 4-6 minutes.
3. Stop the mixer, add the tahini, vegetable oil, honey, and vanilla. Beat on low until all ingredients are incorporated. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl at least once, and mix a bit more. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until just incorporated.
4. Turn batter into prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 25-35 minutes for the honeycomb pan, 35-40 minutes for the bundt pan, until cake is browned and center of cake is not at all jiggly. Remove from heat and let cool on a rack. Turn cake onto a platter carefully.
5. Garnish with fresh fruit, roasted fruit, or pan-seared fruit. Italian prune plums are especially nice this time of year. To pan-sear fruit: Heat a cast iron skillet until hot. Add a knob of butter or a little olive oil. Place pitted and halved plums cut side down and cook over medium high heat until they are bubbly and brown. No need to turn. Remove from pan with a spatula to a plate. Drizzle with honey or honey mixed with lemon juice.
- From Anna Herman
Per serving (based on 10): 360 calories; 5 grams protein; 44 grams carbohydrates; 25 grams sugar; 19 grams fat; 82 milligrams cholesterol; 32 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.
Honey Nut or Seed Brittle
Makes about 1 cup of brittle
1 cup honey
1 cup toasted nuts or seeds, such as pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or sesame
Sea salt, lavender, or chopped thyme for variation
1. Have a candy thermometer ready. Prepare a sheet pan by lining with a nonstick mat or parchment paper.
2. Bring the honey to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pan large enough to allow for bubbling syrup to rise. Place the candy thermometer in the syrup and cook until the syrup is just 300 degrees. Turn off heat.
3. Working quickly, add the toasted nuts and stir. Immediately turn this mixture onto the prepared pan. Allow to cool.
4. Break into pieces or chop. For a variation, use mixture of nuts, or nuts and sesame seeds. Adding a pinch of sea salt, a pinch of lavender flowers, or some fresh chopped thyme is also nice.
- From Anna Herman
Per two-tablepoon serving: 218 calories; 3 grams protein; 38 grams carbohydrates; 35 grams sugar; 8 grams fat; no cholesterol; 3 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.
Balsamic Honey Brisket
Makes 8 to12 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
4-6 pounds brisket, trimmed of any large amounts of fat
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thin
5 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
2 carrots, sliced thin
1 stalk celery, minced fine
4-6 plum tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1-2 teaspoons of fresh or 1/2-1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper as needed
1. Preheat the oven to 320 degrees. If you have an ovenproof skillet large enough for the brisket, use it. Otherwise select a roasting pan that can also be used on the stove top.
2. Add the olive oil to the pan, and heat on medium to high heat (use two burners if needed for a roasting pan) until the oil shimmers. Season the brisket well with salt and fresh pepper on both sides and place fat side down in the pan to sear. After 4-5 minutes peek at the underside, and when well browned, turn the brisket. Add the onions and garlic to pan, in the spots that the brisket doesn't cover, and stir from time to time to allow them to brown and soften slightly while the second side of the brisket browns.
3. Remove the brisket from the skillet and set aside. Add the carrots, celery, tomatoes, vinegar, honey, and herbs. Cook over medium-high heat, scraping any browned bits from the bottom, for 1-2 minutes. Push the vegetables and liquid to the sides and return the brisket to the skillet. Spoon some of the vegetables and liquid over the brisket. Cover the entire pan with a lid, or foil, and place in oven. Cook for 2-3 hours, uncovering from time to time to baste the brisket with the gravy and re-covering well each time. Cook until a fork easily pierces the thickest part of the meat and allow to cool.
4. Refrigerate overnight. Skim excess fat from the gravy. Remove meat to a cutting board, slice thinly across the grain, and return slices to the gravy to rewarm. Heat well covered, at 250, for 35-40 minutes.
- From Anna Herman
Per serving (based on 12): 416 calories; 52 grams protein; 12 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams sugar; 18 grams fat; 169 milligrams cholesterol; 329 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.
Sweet and Spicy Carrot Coins
Makes 6-8 servings
5-8 carrots, washed well and peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1- to 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped into very small pieces (or use 5 pieces of candied ginger, chopped coarsely)
1 clove garlic minced
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon, optional
1. Trim the carrots and slice into 1/8-inch rounds.
2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the carrots. Cook until just beginning to brown. Add the ginger, pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring continuously, until the garlic is softened and translucent. Add the honey, salt to taste, and 1/4 to 1/3 cup water and stir.
3. There should be enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until carrots are soft and well glazed, approximately 15 minutes. Add a small amount of water if needed to prevent scorching. Adjust seasoning (a bit more salt, a bit more honey, lemon juice/zest as desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- From Anna Herman
Per serving (based on 8): 81 calories; trace protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams sugar; 5 grams fat; no cholesterol; 124 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.