You know what I'm talking about, honey, and, yes, it be honey.
The sweetest and most fragrant honey I've ever eaten came fresh from the hollow of a dead section of an ancient oak tree on my grandfather's Illinois farm. With his big pocket knife, Grandpa pared off a piece of honey-rich honeycomb and told me to try it.
Grandpa was always pulling out his knife to pare off a chunk of something for me to eat, whether it was a chunk of apple as we sat in the duck blind, waiting to shoot ducks, or maybe a piece of a juicy watermelon as we stood in the middle of his melon patch, picking out the juiciest melon. This time it was a luscious little piece of honeycomb from that rather big piece of honeycomb that he had retrieved from the old oak with absolutely no fear of being stung by honeybees. I think a couple of them did sting my gramps, but he just didn't care. He was tough.
Grandpa, if you're reading this up there in Heaven and acting cocky now, as I tell folks what a tough guy you were, you should realize that down here on this Earthly plain these days we have some mean little things called Africanized killer bees, which could have sent your brave but mortal self to the urgent-care clinic right quickly.
However, such was not the case more than a half-century ago, so I was safely introduced to fresh honey. Oh, mercy be, that bee-produced goodness was lip-smacking good. Right then and there I was sold on the subtle deliciousness of honey.
Not only does honey taste good by itself, but it can cast wonderful flavors into many dishes and enhance many edibles. That kitchen pantry that holds our honey also keeps boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios and honey-roasted peanuts and honey-glazed pecans. Speaking of honey glazed, you've probably enjoyed more than one honey-glazed ham and sat down to at least one Thanksgiving table that offered honey-glazed carrots.
Last night, I prepared honey-glazed, stuffed, chicken breasts. They are delicious and simple to make. How simple? Even a jarhead can do it. Simply use a sharp knife to cut a pocket into each breast and then stuff each pocket with thin honey ham, provolone cheese, cream cheese and fresh spinach that is damp and salted and peppered. Then brown both sides of the breasts in a pan with a little olive oil. Finally, with the flattest sides of the breasts facing down, drizzle the topsides with honey and sprinkle with Creole seasoning, and then pop into the oven at 375 degrees until the juices run clear, not red, which might take 15 or 20 minutes. Just don't leave them in there too long; dry chicken breasts ain't good. Moist chicken breasts are delicious, and Anne loves my honey-glazed, stuffed, chicken breasts. And I reiterate: Even an old gyrene can create them.
Well, that's one honey of a recipe for you already. Chicken and honey go well together, so I'll throw you a few more ideas: Asian sesame-honey wings, Asian honey-barbecue thighs and French honey-roasted whole chicken. Those three creations are easy to make, too, and I'll give you the simple directions in a bit. Stand by.
First, I need to tell you about the healthfulness of honey, because the stuff can be really good for you. However, even before that, I should point out that fresh-from-the-comb honey is more healthful than pasteurized honey. Pasteurization keeps the honey stable and in its clear, runny state a lot longer, but it takes away a little bit of that good taste and some of those health benefits. When you grab a bottle of honey from the store shelf – you know, those plastic bottles that are contoured to look like a honey jar or textured to look like honeycomb or shaped like an adorable bear – you're getting pasteurized honey. It's still yummy and still contains some of those beneficial properties, though.
By the way, simply using honey as a sweetener in place of sugar or corn syrup is better for you in and of itself. When it comes to calories, however, you're not going to save on calories if you use honey instead of sugar, but I do know you'll be healthier in the long run by choosing honey. Trust me. If you can get along without added sweetness, that's best, but I can't do it. I love sweet, just as I love sour, just as I love salty, just as I love sweet 'n' salty. Pass me that liquid gold, honey.
The benefits of honey have been touted for 5,000 years. The ancient Greeks claimed that honey could help you live a longer life. The ancient Egyptians used honey in some of their medicines. Reportedly even earlier than that, honey was used for the treatment of wounds. And some people today use honey in caring for wounds and burns.
I've never applied honey to cuts, scrapes, bruises or burns, but the next time I take a tumble or scorch myself – mind you, I'm a clumsy oaf and am always hurting myself – I'll give honey a try. I'll let you know if it helps.
Besides containing beneficial nutrients, honey has a solid reputation as an energy booster and is apparently good for digestion, athletic performance and skin complexion. In the case of the latter, I'm not sure if simply consuming the honey helps our skin, or if we must smear it on ourselves. I'd better check, and I'll let you know about that, too.
Most of us know about honey's power to sooth our throats and ease our coughs whenever we suffer a common cold. I've often brewed up tea, with honey and lemon in it, and it has always helped to reduce my cold symptoms when it comes to a cough and sore throat. A shot of whiskey in that mixture helps me even more, but don't listen to me. Many people will tell you I'm a bad influence, so it's best to check with your doctor on any home remedies for your cold symptoms.
As far as those the other recipes I mentioned, let's see how simple I can keep them. I'll start with the Asian sesame-honey wings. Heat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking pan with nonstick foil. Mix together 1/4 cup honey, 2 Tbsp. sesame oil, 2 Tbsp. soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger and 1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic. Throw your chicken wings onto the pan and roast for 45 minutes. Coat with half of the sauce mixture and roast 10 more minutes. Apply the rest of the sauce and 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds and roast 5 more minutes. Broil a couple of minutes if you want to darken and crisp up the skin. Pile the wings onto a serving platter and garnish with chopped green onion.
For the honey-barbecue thighs, first mix 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup water, 2 Tbsp. orange juice, 2 Tbsp. soy sauce, 2 Tbsp. ketchup, 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic and 1/4 tsp five-spice powder, combining it all into a sauce. Then salt and pepper some bone-in chicken thighs, with or without skin, and toss them onto a grill over medium-hot coals. Grill 10 minutes and flip. Brush sauce onto the side that's now facing up. In 10 minutes, flip and brush sauce on the side that's now up. In 10 minutes, flip again and check for doneness. Arrange the thighs on a serving platter and garnish with chopped green onion.
Finally, here's the scoop on the French honey-roasted chicken. Buy one whole hen, rinse it and pat dry. Carefully work your fingers and one hand under the chicken skin, gently lifting it from the breasts and side and a little bit over the fat ends of the legs, but don't tear the skin and don't pull it off. Again using your fingers, and with about 2 Tbsp. of minced fresh garlic and about 4 Tbsp. of softened butter, stuff the garlic and butter under the skin, spreading all over the meat of the breasts, sides and upper legs. Next, pour honey under the skin, covering all the meat under the skin, using about 1/2 cup of honey or more if needed. Lastly, drizzle a little olive oil over the outside of the chicken and sprinkle on some Creole seasoning. I usually put a quarter of an onion, a quarter of an orange and a couple of garlic cloves inside the bird's cavity and cover the wing tips and leg tips with foil so they don't burn. Roast that sweet chicken for two hours in an oven that's preheated to 350 degrees. Check for doneness and then let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes before cutting into it.
The wings and the thighs go well with white steamed rice. Honey bread is good with the roasted chicken. Yes, you can make the bread easily. In a bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups warm milk, 1/2 cup honey, 4 Tbsp. melted butter and 2 tsp. salt. In another bowl, mix 1 cup warm water and 2 packages active dry yeast. Combine the two bowls of wet ingredients and mix in 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and then allow to rest for 20 minutes, covered. Knead that good stuff until smooth and elastic and then allow to rise in a buttered bowl until it doubles in size, about 60 minutes. Form into two loaves and allow to rise in 9x5x3-inch loaf pans until they each double in size. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes in an oven preheated to 375 degrees.
"When you go in search of honey, you must expect to be stung by bees," observed Joseph Joubert, the French moralist and essayist, who died in Paris in 1824.
Joseph never got to meet my bee-brave grandfather, but I'm sure Monsieur Joubert met a few delicious, honey-inspired meals in the City of Light.
You don't have to go to Paris to enjoy honey-inspired chow. Wherever you are, you can enjoy a big spoonful of delicious honey before your workout, to give yourself that extra energy. Then you can go to, say, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen for a little fried chicken and a biscuit with honey all over it for lunch. And for supper, you can throw together one of my honey recipes. Do not forget, however, to include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables with your meals and in between. I want you to be healthy. I want you to be able to outrun those honey bees if you have to.
Honestly, you cannot outrun those bees. Just buy your honey at the store.