In the microuniverse of blogging, there are few controversies more spirited than the debate over sponsored posts and advertising. I personally don’t like advertising banners and badges on blogs – they’re distracting, unsightly, and (perhaps irrationally) they make me slightly suspicious of the blogger. My attitude may be self-indulgent – after all, great segments of bloggers’ conferences are devoted to “monetizing” your blog. (I admit I have never been to a bloggers’ conference.) But I figure this is MY blog and I can do what I like with it. I sneeringly turned down advertisements from a reputable Large London Grocer and I have decidedly mixed feelings about blogging restaurant reviews from places that offer free meals in exchange for a review. (Chris, at Cheese and Biscuits, does a nice job of describing the queasy internal conflict that goes along with the freebie here. He gets way, WAY more freebies than I ever will.)
All that said, however, I have a slightly different attitude to products. I think this is probably because I make everything from scratch and it’s hard to hide behind a raw ingredient. Plus if I’m lucky it gives me the opportunity to cook with something that I might not otherwise have tried. I’m pretty choosy about what I’ll accept – I have to like the people that are offering the item to me; e.g., I have to respect their ethos and their approach to food-sourcing. But I was pretty excited when the nice folks at Seggiano (a small family-run Italian food importer) invited me to choose some items from their catalogue. A box duly was delivered on Monday, and yesterday I took a crack at creating a recipe from one of the most intriguing of the contents: chestnut honey. To be clear: I got the honey for free, but I am not otherwise being paid to write this post.
Chestnut honey is unlike any honey I have ever tasted. It is dark brown, like buckwheat honey, and it has a heavily floral taste that is followed by a woody, bitter note reminiscent of walnut skins. It is quite intense: it lingers and kind of spreads itself over the palate. A little goes a long way. I wasn’t quite sure I would do with it, but yesterday inspiration struck at the Portobello Market where I saw beautiful baby purple artichokes for 50 p a pound. (What a score!) In this dish the bitterness of the honey is overlaid by lemon, aromatic thyme, and nutty notes of butter, in which it softens to almost form a caramel. It works well with the complicated, dense, sour-olive taste of artichokes. Baby artichokes are tender enough that they can be eaten whole, without having to trim the choke, so this dish has a garden-to-table prettiness. It would be nice as an accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats, or on its own as part of a summer meze spread.
2 pounds (a little less than a kilo) baby artichokes
50 grams unsalted butter
2 teaspoons chestnut honey
1 cup white chicken stock or vegetable stock (If using vegetable stock use one with plenty of flavour)
Juice of ½ lemon plus additional lemon juice for soaking the artichokes
8-10 sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim the artichokes by slicing off the stems, stripping off the coarse outer leaves, and trimming about half an inch from the tips. Use a paring knife to gently carve away the rough edges around the base where you have removed the leaves. (I found this post on trimming artichokes helpful.) Once trimmed, place in a medium bowl which you have filled with cool water and one to two teaspoons of lemon juice. (This keeps the artichokes from discolouring.)
Melt together the butter and honey in a heavy-bottomed skillet large enough to fit all the artichokes in a single layer. Once the butter has started to foam, add the artichokes, toss to coat, and reduce heat to medium or medium-low. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the stock and the thyme and simmer, shaking pan occasionally, until some of the liquid has steamed off, about ten minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice, cover partially and continue to cook, turning the artichokes once or twice, for another 15-20 minutes or until the artichokes are tender when pierced with a sharp knife at the base. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately, or serve at room temperature, garnished, if you wish, with additional sprigs of fresh thyme
Makes about 4 servings.
You’ve done a lovely job with this recipe.Chestnut honey is an incredible ingredient.
I will have to respectfully disagree with you in places. I too do not accept anything that i do not think is up to my standards or that is not an amazing ingredient ( have not ever yet been sent any for reviewing) . It would have to be a very good ingredient ( or I have chosen it myself). I have done a couple of reviews but I would have said I didnt like the restaurant if that was the case,,, and I always let the company know this before accepting. If I could find a decent way to advertise and monetise my blog I would accept it in a minute. I spend all of my spare time writing and cooking and would realy like for it to make me some money one of these days. I have to eat as well as cook!.
As you said a great conversation piece Susan..
I think that you’ve hit the key: “decent way.” It would be nice to earn money! I just don’t like ads on blogs.
With regard to restaurants, freebies are tricky — I certainly agree it’s important at the outset to advise the restaurant that a free meal is no guarantee of a favorable review. But even the most conscientious critics find the freebies in exchange for reviews difficult to mediate — how do you demonstrate (to yourself as well as to others) that your review is fair and unbiased? I think Chris at Cheese and Biscuits has struck a sensible balance by not giving the freebie restaurant a numbered rating (and of course disclosing that he was invited to review).
I love love love artichokes and these sound delicious! I’m intrigued by the chestnut honey. When chestnuts are in season I am constantly buying, roasting and gobbling them up. Would you use this honey the way you would more tradition honey? Your description of the taste is fantastic, as usual. Thankfully Trader Joe’s regularly carries baby artichokes. Now I just need to find the honey. Bravo!
Thank you for the nice comment Nina! I most definitely wouldn’t use this honey like other honeys — its flavor is so intense that I can’t imagine, say, spreading it on toast with butter. My jar says that it’s eaten in Italy along with pears and pecorino for dessert. As to where you’d buy it — the stuff I have is traditional to Tuscany and Umbria, and I’m sure in Portland you could find Italian chestnut honey at an Italian foods store or even Whole Foods or New Seasons. Apparently chestnut honey is produced in abundance in Hood River, Oregon, but I don’t know if it tastes the same. Worth checking out though, although I recommend getting a small jar because I don’t think you’ll have as much use for it as, say, a wildflower honey.
Great description of the chestnut honey, it is intense!
I do the dreaded ads on my blog, but don’t accept free meals from restaurants. In fact, I prefer that they have no clue that I’m reviewing them. But I think that if you’re upfront about the process and acknowledge when you have received free stuff, that it’s okay to accept them. We each have our own sensibilities and I guess we have to navigate our blogs the way we see as being best. And it would really be nice if their were a decent way to be monetarily compensated for writing and maintaining a blog!
I totally agree. I don’t mean to slam advertising on blogs — as you say, it’s a personal decision. Your blog is nice-looking. Some blogs are absolutely cluttered with advertisements. The UK is very strict about disclosing sponsorship (I think the US is too), and like you say, with full disclosure it’s absolutely okay. I do feel a modicum of guilt at accepting freebies, but I have to say it is outweighed by my delight: free nice things! That I otherwise couldn’t afford! We all strike our own balance.
No, don’t feel even a modicum of guilt. You handled it well. Now, if you start using Cheese Whiz in your recipes, then we might have some concerns about your integrity, but Chestnut Honey from a reputable food importer- no problem. It’s good to think about your blog in these terms from time to time and evaluate what you’re doing (or not doing) and why you’re doing it (or not).
A nice thing to say, said nicely. Thank you Gene.
Wonderful! I like Seggiano’s products but have never tried their honey . . . will have to now, especially with these little baby artichokes! So cute! All baby things are cute to eat. Baby carrots, baby beet . . . lamb . . . veal . . . 😉
Sometimes I feel a little guilty not buying local honey. There are quite a few Brooklyn hipsters who keep beehives and sell the honey at markets and fairs around the city. But once, in Brooklyn, I saw a bunch of yellow, fuzzy honey bees buzzing around some flowering plants that a dog just peed on.
Sometimes local can be too local!
Eeeeeewwwww!!!!! Yeah, I’d steer well clear of that.
I had no idea Seggiano’s products were sold in NYC! I will try to remember to pack up some of the chestnut honey in a little jar to give to you when I come next week. I have A LOT (17.5 oz) and it is so strongly flavored I can’t imagine using all of it in less than five years.
Yes! I am looking forward to eating with you in person! I can’t believe it is already next week. So excited!
And I welcome any and all pee-free honey 😉
Ah, where were you some years ago? My best friend from high school had been living in Italy and brought me some chestnut honey as a treat. I could not eat it and I was afraid to cook with it — I ended up giving it away to another friend (I don’t know what she did with it — I never heard about it again). If it ever crosses my path again, I will try to remember your baby artichokes recipe because I love artichokes. I’m with you, by the way, on advertising — i don’t even like the way blog awards look on my blog, although I appreciate it when people nominate me (I’ve stopped accepting and posting them: I just thank the person and give them a link). I, like many, would love to earn money from my blog, but I like to retain control of what goes on it.
I am with you on the blogger awards. It’s so nice to receive them, but I am terrible at going through the process of answering the ten or so questions about myself. I can never seem to get around to writing that post, and I’ve come to accept that I probably never will.
The chestnut honey works with the artichokes. It’s such an unusual ingredient — the bitter flavor is so prominent, yet at equipoise (there’s a pretentious word for you) with the sweet and floral. Remarkable stuff. I was reading yesterday on other unusual honeys. Now I want to try Sidr, or frankinscense honey. Supposed to be really special. It’s produced primarily in Yemen, I think.
Love the top photo. I thought at first the thyme was part of a table linen.
That’s hilarious! I’d love that table linen.
What an interesting combination of flavors! I’ve been on the lookout for new artichoke recipes. Unlike the newly trendy brussels sprouts, from my baseline research, it seems everyone prepares their artichokes virtually the same! Great pictures, too!
What a fabulous compliment! Thank you!
Oh you lucky thing! I’m glad you put these freebies to good use, I would love some of these baby artichokes. Haven;t tried chestnut honey before but already imagining their deep rich flavour; I’m a huge fan of honey, I go through a jar a week, just dipped and licked off the spoon raw. It’s my sweet treat as I’m not a fan of desserts. Thanks for sharing this honey with us (:
btw gorgeous photos.
Shuhan: I have 500 g of chestnut honey — it’s so intense it’ll take me ages to use. I’d be happy to share it with you; I’m sure you’d take it in a totally different direction, recipe-wise. Interested? 🙂
Seriously? Omg YES!
Lovely post, as usual, Susan! The baby artichokes look and sound delicious. I love the photo of them cooking in the pan.
I’m with you on ads on my blog, as well as blog awards. Again, it’s wonderful to be bestowed awards, but I find it awkward to answer questions about myself. Friends and family always ask me why I’m not making money on my blog like “famous blogger #1, 2, 3, etc.”, but that’s not really my thing. I already have such a sense of responsibility and pressure (sometimes) about my blog that I don’t want it to be a “job.” Am I not blogging enough? Are my photos ok? Yada yada yada!
Many food bloggers write cookbooks, but I’m not a recipe developer at all. I don’t have the interest nor the skill to do that. I like following recipes and tweaking it to my taste. There’s no money in that. I blog just because I want to and it’s fun. I’ve learned a lot about photography and I’m cooking/baking like never before, even counting the time I was in culinary school. I’ve interacted with many wonderful and gracious people, like you, and that’s good enough for me.
I’ve never gotten freebies and I don’t have the first clue to find a sponsor. I’m not the marketing type at all.
I did get a non-paid gig as the food blogger for a jeans company, of all things. Not sure I’m supposed to say who yet, but my first article comes out this coming week. Maybe if it all goes well, it could lead to something else…who knows.
Interesting topic of conversation.
You are a wonderful and wonderfully creative recipe developer! I still think admiringly of your spate of Meyer lemon recipes; those dishes were so beautiful, and they are what got my sister hooked on your blog.
How cool that you’re going to be blogging food for a jeans company. I’d feel very sexy cooking (and eating) your food in jeans.
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