Sunday, August 25, 2013

Honey Panna Cotta with Spun Sugar Garnish

This Honey Panna Cotta we had for our Honeybee Celebration was simply amazing. I can't find words adequate to describe how smooth it was! A cross between Greek Yogurt (which it contains) and Frozen Custard, maybe. And the honey gelatin on top is so mild and translucent---it looks beautiful and tastes just like honey and sunshine. We loved it. And it's easy enough to make that the older children did it all themselves, with me calling out instructions as I nursed Marigold on the couch.

We garnished with what this video, linked in the original recipe, calls "spun sugar" (and he's French, so he must be correct). I would have called it caramelized sugar to distinguish it from something like cotton candy. Anyway, it is easy to make. Just sugar melted with water. And don't be too alarmed that the sugar might suddenly crystallize. (Sometimes it does---it is actually really cool. It looks like this:
and it happens in the blink of an eye, if there's a sugar crystal or some other impurity on your spoon or on the sides of your pan. That's why the video says not to stir after the sugar liquifies.)

Anyway, if it does crystallize, it's easy to fix---just reheat it slowly and it will turn into a liquid again. Then you can proceed as directed to drizzle the caramel onto parchment in pretty patterns. This was something I had to help with, as it was a bit difficult for the boys to do.
Once this hardens, you can break it apart and use it for garnish! So elegant.

The Panna Cotta itself is extremely simple. There are only a few ingredients, so make sure you use only the highest . . . no, just kidding. Use whatever you want.

Honey Panna Cotta

1/4 cup milk
2 ¼ tsp. (1 envelope) unflavored gelatin
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla (or a vanilla bean, if you have it)
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 cups plain Greek yogurt

For the Honey Gelatin:
1 tsp. unflavored gelatin
2 T water
1/3 cup honey
1 cup water

Mix the gelatin with the milk in a small bowl. Set aside.

Meanwhile, mix the cream, vanilla, honey and sugar in a medium pan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Add the gelatin-milk mixture to the pan and stir until completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice and stir. Whisk in the Greek yogurt. 

Pour the mixture into individual glasses, or into one large glass bowl. (I think individual servings are more elegant, but we doubled this recipe, so we did some in glasses and the rest in a big bowl.) Make sure to leave about 1/2 inch of space for the gelatin at the top of the glass. Chill at least 3 hours in the refrigerator.

To make the gelatin, combine 2 tablespoons of water and the 1 tsp of gelatin in a small bowl and stir. Set aside for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine the one cup of water with the 1/3 cup of honey in a pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat. Add the gelatin mixture to it and stir until gelatin powder is completely dissolved.

Pour the gelatin mixture over the panna cotta, dividing it evenly among the glasses. Chill until set, at least one hour. Garnish with spun sugar.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Field Trip to Kevin's Bees

We are super lucky, because one of Sam's coworkers keeps bees, and he said we could come visit his hives! We were SO excited, and then there was a lot of anticipation because this field trip was put off a couple times---once for a rainstorm, and once for sickness. So by the time we actually got to the bees, we'd been waiting a couple weeks!

Kevin and his wife Heather are the nicest beekeepers ever. They told us lots of interesting things about bees and beekeeping, and then best of all, they let the older boys suit up in a beekeeper's suit and help check inside the hives!! It was pretty much the coolest thing they have ever done.

Before we opened up the hives, we all went over to have a closer look. We stayed to the side, since bees don't like people blocking the path to their hive's entrance.

We could see the Guard Bees standing faithfully at their posts

Kevin demonstrated how to use the smoker, and showed us how to pump slowly so the smoke wouldn't be too hot.

Abe suited up first. We had to use some twine to hold up his pants! :) We hadn't come prepared with long pants because we didn't know we'd get to get so close to the bees!

Abe holding the smoker and letting smoke out to calm the bees

Kevin pulled off the supers one by one to check the honey inside.

He showed us the bees on their comb, and the wax caps covering the honey cells. The older boys also got to see brood cells and a few drones.

Queen cells on the side of the frames

Some comb Kevin pulled off the edge of one of the frames

Seb helps check the other hive

Another beautiful piece of comb

An unfortunate end (or perhaps you could say, the perfect end) to this awesome day was when Daisy and then Junie both got stung! We stayed far away from the hives with them, but somehow they got stung anyway. Maybe it was the bright colors they wore (bees find white and neutrals more calming). But Daisy had been SO excited to wear her bee shirt and bee hair clip. The saddest thing was after she got stung (on the back of her neck), she was crying and saying, "But I thought the bees would LOVE me!" We finally convinced her that the bees DID love her; they just got so excited that one of them stung her accidentally. :)  I read that bees release a pheromone when they sting that other bees smell and think "danger"---so then they are more likely to sting too. I'm guessing that's why Junie got stung after Daisy did---the bees were excited by the first sting. Who knows.

Anyway, luckily we're all very resilient and don't have any allergies to bee stings (that we know of), so we rubbed some witch hazel on the girls' stings and they felt better within 10 minutes. By the time we got home, everyone was talking fondly about the bees and the "poor bees" that died when they stung the girls, and asking if we could go back and visit again soon. :)

I was excited when I brushed off Junie's sting site because I could see a bee's stinger fall into my hand (which I've never seen before). I thought this would be a better picture but I guess the stinger is just too tiny. Here is a better picture of a stinger, for your enjoyment.

Sebby and Malachi played beekeeper for the next several days :)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Honeybee Celebration

This was a fun celebration because there are so many recipes that use honey! We only chose a few to make, of the many recipes I had bookmarked to try. I also appreciated the way the boys used our paper honeycomb as a tablecloth.

The recipes we tried are:

Honey-sesame chicken (delicious!)

Honey salad dressing (pretty good, but I've had better)

Honey-drizzled flatbread--best eaten warm. I doubled the recipe but shouldn't have, because we had too much left over and it wasn't as good the next day.

Honey panna cotta--this was awesome---see separate post here

Honeyed hot cocoa (really interesting---it was almost a savory taste, hardly sweet at all. And very rich. I would make it again, in the right context---it was very unexpected.)

There are more ideas on my pinterest board.

We had fun making these jellybean bees, which we used as garnish on our plates and the food plates

What a delicious feast! Thank you, honeybees!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beehive Collages

We learned about the history of beekeeping, and that included information on different types of beehives used over the years. I had the children make a collage depicting any type of beehive they chose. Abraham made a Langstroth Hive (shown above). This is the modern kind of beehive which is basically all people use these days. Langstroth was one of the first people to take advantage of "bee space" (the amount of space bees need between sections of comb to feel comfortable) and make it really easy for beekeepers to remove honeycomb without destroying the whole hive. You can see that Abe has shown the vertical frames coming down within the supers, and the queen excluder keeping the queen down in the brood cells rather than up in the honey supers.

Malachi made a rocket-ship-shaped beehive. There is fire below each leg, to keep hungry ants and other crawling insects out of the hive! He wrote "I wonder what it's like to be a bee."

Seb made the "classic" beehive shape, which is on the Utah State Flag. This kind of hive is called a "skep" and it's usually made out of woven or bundled rings of straw. The bees build their own honeycomb inside the hive, so if you harvest the honey, you pretty much have to destroy the hive in the process.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Crystallized Honey experiments

We learned about the crystallization process in honey, and factors that can influence crystallization. (For example, honeys with a higher fructose-to-glucose ratio do not crystallize as easily. Orange blossom honey is supposed to resist crystallization altogether. Heat can also influence if and when a honey crystallizes.)

We mixed honey with different amounts of water to see how fast it would crystallize in the fridge. We found the inspiration for our experiments here, here, and here.

We also heated some crystallized honey and watched how the process reverses and it becomes runny again. Very interesting!

Bees vs. Wasps, and Stingers

Abe's drawing

Thanks to several books and websites, we now finally know the difference between a bee and wasp. Hooray! The children drew pictures showing the distinctions between them.

I was pretty impressed with Daisy's!

Malachi's drawing

Sebby's drawing

This was a little demonstration just showing how bee stingers and wasp stingers (and queen bee stingers) differ from each other. Worker bee stingers are barbed, kind of like the screw at left above. Queen bees and wasps have smooth stingers, more like the nail.

To show how the two stingers act in different materials, we poked them into cardboard and stryofoam. The barbed stinger and the smooth stinger both pull out pretty easily from cardboard (though the barbed one leaves a bigger hole). The cardboard is like another insect's exoskeleton. Thus, worker bees, queen bees, and wasps can all sting other insects without harm to themselves. 

The stryofoam is like the softer flesh of a mammal. When the smooth stinger pokes into a mammal's flesh, it can pull out again. But when the barbed stinger enters a mammal, it sticks inside and the barbs keep it in place. Thus, when the bee flies away after stinging a mammal, the stinger rips from her body, eventually killing her.

Here is a nice picture of a bee's stinger.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bee Boys

Two pictures just for fun. Seb and Ky dressed up as bees (note Seb's stinger).

Saturday, August 17, 2013


This was kind of a fun art project, from this helpful site. (She has lesson plans there too.) The printable bee coloring pages (with a sweat bee, a leafcutter bee, a honeybee, and a bumblebee to color) are here, and then you attach them to a paper plate to make a mobile. We hung these around the house for our Bee Celebration.

More information about social vs. solitary bees is here

These cards also have some good information on different species

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