Drink Recipes

Winter Recipes: Xocolatl (Aztec “Hot” Chocolate)

For the first time in what feels like an arctic eternity, it rained today. Granted, the temperature barely rose above the 40 degree mark (4° C), and there’s still about a foot of solid snow still obscuring our view from anything remotely green, but it didn’t snow! After a good month of snowstorms followed by bouts of freezing rain, followed by unforecasted and unprecedented winter weather, finally witnessing rain felt like cause enough to celebrate! And, after doing a little digging, it would seem that this late-February, rain-based excitement has a rather long history on this continent. In fact, according to archaic Aztec documents, the original inhabitants of the Mexican peninsula some 700 – 800 years ago, performed their first rain celebration in late February as a way of commemorating (and, at times, imploring) the arrival of Springtime rains.  So, in honor of this century-spanning emotional connection between 21st Century central Pennsylvania and 13th – 14th century Aztec Mexico, I thought it only right to celebrate as the Aztecs would have: with a sacred, medicinal mug of xocolatl, or drinking chocolate.

The precursor to our modern notion of hot chocolate, xocolatl (translating, quite appetizingly to “bitter water”), was a beverage made of chocolate, water, and native flora (crushed nuts, flowers, and peppers would be added to the xocolatl mixture) that was made especially for cultural and religious celebrations. But, unlike our modern chocolatey drinks, xocolatl is actually meant to be taken cold; which, coupled with chocolate’s natural levels of caffeine, made xocolatl a sort of Aztec energy drink helped the average Aztec reveler awake and active during important cultural ceremonies. Not just a source of energy, xocolatl’s infusion of chocolate and hot pepper (particularly the capsicum compound found in hot peppers) makes this ancient beverage a powerful digestive aid. So, whether you’re tired and feeling a bit under the weather, or you’re in the mood to celebrating getting over the weather, let’s dig into a batch of “hot” xocolatl!

A last word before we fully dig in: this recipe in its unaltered form does tend to live up to its “bitter” namesake, as it includes no sugar, and very little flavoring besides cocoa and capsicum; so, don’t feel bad adding a touch of milk, cream, or sugar to your xocolatl to give a more modern sensibility!

Xocolatl Recipe

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 cups water (divided into 1 1/2 cups and 4 cups)
  • 1 mild chile pepper, chopped (feel free to leave the seeds in for some extra heat)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil over medium high heat. Place the chopped chile into the water and let boil for 5 – 7 minutes. If your oven has a fan or vent, I’d recommend having it on during this step – the capsicum in the pepper can clear your sinuses quite effectively if left unchecked.
  2. Filter the pepper and seeds out of the water using a wire strainer. Return the pepper-infused water to the pan and pour in the remaining four cups of water. Return the mixture to a boil.
  3. When the water is boiling, stir in the cocoa powder and vanilla extract, reduce the heat to medium low, and let simmer for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the cocoa powder has completely dissolved.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool for an authentic Aztec experience, or serve hot for a more modern mug of xocolatl!
  5. Enjoy a celebratory mug of good health and climate!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you next time for another recipe unearthed from humanity’s collective kitchen!

Keep digging!
~Nate

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Categories: Drink Recipes, History, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Winter Recipes: How to Seed and Juice a Pomegranate

In this hemisphere, warm-weather pomegranates always arrive with the snow

Every year, right about when the first waves of snow envelop our part of Pennsylvania, an unassuming red fruit starts showing up in the local markets. These jewels of warmer climes may appear to some like a lumpy apple that’s much better for staining clothing than consumption, but to those who know how to unlock their ancient secrets, the pomegranate is a veritable treasure to behold. And, with pomegranate seeds being high in an array of vitamins, minerals, and blood-pressure reducing compounds, the benefits of this ancient fruit go far beyond its almost unearthly spectrum of sweet, yet tart flavors.

Digging up the Pomegranate’s Mythical Past

In modern food culture, pomegranates have recently been heralded as one of the “superfruits,” a collection of plants that provide a variety of generally accepted health benefits. But, despite the amazing nutritious effects pomegranates truly offer, our modern beliefs surrounding the pomegranate pale in comparison to those of the ancient world. In ancient Persia (modern Iran), where the pomegranate is rumored to originate, the mythological figure Isfandiyar (or Esfandiyār, depending on the translation) is said to have been granted superhuman invincibility after consuming a single pomegranate. In other ancient cultures, particularly in Islamic and Judaic traditions, the pomegranate symbolized increased fertility and abundance, and played a part in many marital customs. It was believed that newlywed couples who ate of the pomegranate would be blessed with children as numerous as the pomegranates seeds. By the time of the ancient Greeks, this focus on fertility evolved into the pomegranate symbolizing everlasting marriage. It is for this reason that the Greek goddess Persephone was forced to eternally wed Hades, god of the underworld, after she ate six pomegranate seeds while trapped in his domain.

The jeweled interior of the legendary pomegranate

Now, while the pomegranates of today don’t offer blessed invincibility, increased fertility, or the promise of a never-ending marriage, they are still worth picking up while they’re in season! In order to enjoy the benefits of the pomegranate to the full, we first have to crack it open and extract the seeds without turning our entire kitchen red. There are many ways to do this, but I thought I’d show you the process I’ve used for quite some time which hasn’t stained me yet! And, if you’re looking to make a pomegranate-based sauce, syrup, or beverage, we’ll take a look at how to simply and easily juice a pomegranate as well. Let’s dig in!

Seeding a Pomegranate

Ingredients

  • Pomegranates!

Directions

  1. Using a serrated knife, make a shallow cut near the stem of the pomegranate and completely cut off the top. Avoid cutting too deep as this could puncture the seeds.
  2. Once you have removed the top of the pomegranate, you should be able to see a starburst of white pith (the material that the seeds are stuck to). Place the pomegranate in a bowl to protect your counters, and cut the pomegranate into several segments by cutting along the lines of pith. This will limit the number of seeds your knife will run into.
  3. Pull the segments apart and cover with cold water. Working strictly under the water, scrape the seeds away from the rind. Thanks to the physics of pomegranate composition, the pith will rise to the surface of the water and the seeds will always sink!
  4. When all of the seeds are out of the rind, use a strainer or slotted spoon to fish out as much of the pith as possible. When you’ve retrieved the majority of the pith, pour the seeds into a colander and rinse off any remaining pith.
  5. Congratulations! You’re now ready to enjoy several hundred (613, according to Judaic tradition) nutritious, delicious, and mythical pomegranate seeds!

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Juicing a Pomegranate

One pomegranate will produce between 1/2 – 3/4 cup of pomegranate juice

Ingredients

  • The seeds of one pomegranate

Directions

  1. Place your cleaned pomegranate seeds into a blender and pulse just long enough to pulverize the seeds and release their juice – the finished mixture will not be smooth!
  2. Pour the blended seeds into a fine strainer placed over a bowl. Let the mixture drain, and then press the seeds to squeeze out as much juice as possible.
  3. Transfer your processed juice into a sealable container and refrigerate until needed!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for the first excavation of 2014!

Happy new year, and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Drink Recipes, History, Odds and Ends, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Winter Recipes: Ginger Ale

Digging Up Ginger

Zingiber officionale: the scientific title for spicy, healthful ginger!

Zingiber officionale: the scientific title for spicy, healthful ginger!

Here at Kitchen Excavation, there’s nothing I like better than an ancient, medicinal root crop with mysterious origins. And nothing fits this fascinating bill closer than ginger, the bumpy, root-like spice that’s captivated humanity for thousands of years! With ginger holding the illustrious title of the “most cultivated herb,” food archaeologists have been unable to pinpoint where exactly ginger comes from, since no wild ginger is known to exist. However, scores of ancient religious and medicinal texts can give us a good idea of its origins.

Thanks to written records from Chinese and Indian writers, ginger’s birthplace can be attributed to Southeast Asia, though the exact location of its inception remains a mystery. What we do know, however, is that ginger, even as early as ~2,800 BCE, was regarded as a highly beneficial herb. In the Chinese tradition, the Shennong Bencao Jing (or the Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica), ginger was listed among 120 other herbs used for treating illness. In a sutra from the Ayurvedic medicinal tradition of India, ginger is prescribed as an appetite stimulant and digestive aid which should be taken before each meal. Fast forward to the writing of the Qu’ran in the 7th century CE, wherein a drink infused with ginger is awarded to the righteous. With so many historic accounts touting the benefits of ginger (both medicinal and divine), let’s take a look at what modern medicine has to say about these ancient claims.

The Healing Power of Ginger

While you will find modern sources touting ginger as a true panacea for every ailment, I thought it best to promote only those uses that have been tested (which, not surprisingly, align perfectly with the ancient records of ginger’s healing power!). Just as the ancients believed, ginger is a powerful aid for nausea and digestive pain, and some evidence gives credence to the claim that ginger is capable of stimulating the appetite. Ginger can also provide relief from dizziness, menstrual pain, arthritis, and motion sickness. Of course, as many of us already know, ginger (typically administered in a soda can aside a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup) can also soothe anyone suffering from a sore throat, cold, or flu. And with winter being a frigid season of stuffy noses, what better time to brew our own batch of warm, healthful, corn syrup-free ginger ale?

Home-brewed Ginger Ale

'Tis the season for all things ginger!

‘Tis the season for all things ginger!

Ingredients

  • 3 Tablespoons fresh, grated ginger
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 7 1/2 cups water
  • 1/8 teaspoon of active dry yeast (wine yeast would also work very well)
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

  1. Combine ginger, sugar, and 1/2 cup of water in a medium saucepan, and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Remove the ginger syrup from the heat, and cover for 1 hour to allow the syrup to infuse with ginger flavor.
  3. After your syrup has steeped, strain the syrup into a bowl. Be sure to press out as much liquid from the ginger pulp as possible. Place your bowl of syrup in an ice bath or in the refrigerator to quickly reduce the temperature to ~70 F / ~20 C.
  4. Using a funnel, pour your refined syrup into a clean 2 liter bottle. Add in yeast, lemon juice, and remaining 7 cups of water. Cap the bottle, and gently shake to combine the ingredients.
  5. Allow the bottle to sit at room temperature for 48 hours. Open the bottle once a day to release any excess carbon dioxide.
  6. After two days have passed, check your bottle to determine the level of carbonation. When you’re satisfied with the fizziness of your ginger ale, immediately refrigerate the bottle for up to two weeks.
  7. Enjoy a fizzy, warm infusion of ancient modernity!

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Categories: Drink Recipes, History, Odds and Ends, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Winter Recipes: Dark Hot Chocolate

The Walk towards Winter

The first sign of winter.

The freeze begins

If you stopped by yesterday, you’ll know that I’ve been forming a habit of taking walks through the surrounding forest in order to improve my overall well-being. What I’ve enjoyed the most from this new practice is not feeling more energetic or starting each day with an active purposefulness (not that I’m not enjoying these side-effects!); but instead, I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the opportunity to watch the natural world adjust to the changing seasons. At the beginning of the week, the air was certainly chilled, but the birds and squirrels seemed to pay little mind to the biting breeze, instead focusing their attention on finding bugs and berries and nuts among the dew-covered ground. However, as the week progressed, and the temperatures dropped, I couldn’t help but notice that the birds were flocking and chattering together in the brush, hesitant to leave their roost even as I approached. And that’s when I saw a new and threatening arrival to the forested stage: ice. The grass and leaf litter, once dewy and welcoming became spiked and jagged, sparkling in the morning sun as if to formally announce the approach of winter. And I, woefully underdressed in this now dazzlingly hostile environment, felt a longing that seemed to echo from our earliest ancestors; more than anything, I wanted to find a fire.

Now, being the modern being that I am, my second thought, after this primal first, was that I wanted to roast some marshmallows over that fire. As I stood in wet, freezing shoes certain I was about to catch pneumonia, I couldn’t help but wonder, could a bit of culinary archeology unite these two desires? Might marshmallows also answer a primal need? Probably not, but that doesn’t make their history any less interesting! Let’s dig in!

Marshmallow as Medicine?

The true marshmallow. Not quite as sweet, squishy, and roastable as the modern variety, but undeniably healthier!

The true marshmallow.
Not quite as sweet as the modern variety, but undeniably healthier!

It may come as a surprise to many, but the term “marshmallow” was actually coined to describe an African plant that’s been around for quite some time. According to the 16th century botanist Prospero Alpini, the ancient Egyptians (circa ~2000 BCE) first harvested and processed the marshmallow plant in order to harness the properties locked away in the plant’s root. Not unlike the modern confectionary marshmallow, the ancient Egyptians mixed the cooked mallow root with honey in order to make a soft, sticky sweet. However, wholly unlike the modern marshmallow, ancient chefs (from the time of the Egyptians up to the Middle Ages) prepared mallow root candies because of their medicinal qualities. Containing a strong mucilaginous compound, marshmallow root can effectively treat (or soothe) a wide variety of sinus and bronchial ailments, providing relief from sore throats, ulcers, and even, according to modern scientists, more serious conditions like hyperlipidemia.

Modern Marshmallows

If you’ve recently glanced at the nutritional information of that bag of marshmallows in your pantry, you probably spotted plenty of corn syrup in the ingredients, but no true mallow extract. For this shift, you can thank the French candy makers of the late 19th century. These innovators, in an attempt to make a more widely available marshmallow, switched the traditional root extract with gelatin, a much cheaper and easier to produce ingredient. Fast forward to the 20th century, and modern marshmallows quickly climbed from the realm of childish treat to a staple ingredient suggested by dessert and savory cookbooks alike. For today’s recipe, though, we’ll be whipping up a batch of dark hot chocolate, the perfect complement to the modern marshmallows we made yesterday (you can find the recipe here)!

Dark Hot Chocolate Recipe

Yields 2 mugs of hot chocolate

Dark, rich, and creamy: the perfect pairing for the light and fluffy marshmallow.

Dark, rich, and creamy: the perfect pairing for the light and fluffy marshmallow.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I use soy for a lactose-free recipe, but any milk will work)
  • 3 Tablespoons dark chocolate powder
  • 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together all ingredients until smooth and combined.
  2. Heat mixture over medium-high heat until it reaches a simmer (approximately 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.
  3. Allow your hot chocolate to simmer for ~30 seconds to reduce slightly.
  4. Remove from heat, whisk until frothy, pour into your favorite mug, top with a marshmallow (or three), and enjoy!

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Thanks, as always, for stopping by for this weekend’s pair of kitchen excavation. Be sure to stop in again on Tuesday to dig into another breakfast recipe!

Stay warm and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Drink Recipes, History, Odds and Ends, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Autumn Recipes – Pumpkin Streusel Muffins and Pumpkin Juice

Finally fall!

Finally fall!

Just last week, in the heart of October, the temperatures here in central Pennsylvania were topping out at over 80 degrees F, which did little to engender an autumnal spirit in the locals. Today, though, fall seems to be in full swing, as gilded leaves flutter to the ground, carried by a slight breeze that still holds a memory of its summer warmth, but is fully encased in autumnal crispness. Because of this much-appreciated return of the season I love so much, I couldn’t wait to put some of last week’s pumpkin purée to use in an autumn recipe or two!

Attempting Autumn Recipes

This was my first time using fresh pumpkin, so I was a bit apprehensive (Would everything be too watery? Would I be horrified to find that I like canned pumpkin better? What if I didn’t freeze the pumpkin correctly, and it’s just an icy mess?). Thankfully, our purée did not live up to its watery reputation; it emerged from the freezer without a single ice crystal to speak of; and, the earthy, autumnal aroma that burst forth from each bag of glowing orange purée removed all doubt from my mind that canned pumpkin could ever threaten the quality of fresh.
So, with all of my fears at ease, today we’ll be digging into two very different ways to fully enjoy fall’s flavors!

Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

Complete recipe yields 14 – 18 muffins

Pumpkin Muffin Ingredients

Pumpkin Muffin Ingredients

Ingredients for Muffins

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or use white whole wheat flour for a healthier kick)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups pumpkin purée (equal to one can of pumpkin)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter (melted)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Ingredients for Streusel Topping (Optional)

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

Directions for

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, spices, nuts, and salt until combined.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla until blended.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined
  5. To make the streusel topping, mix the butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon with a fork until well blended and crumbly.
  6. Pour the muffin batter into two greased muffin trays, filling each cup with batter until 2/3 of the way full. Top each filled cup with 1 Tablespoon of the streusel topping.
  7. Bake fro 15 – 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out clean.
  8. Let cool, then enjoy this autumn recipe!

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Our Second Fall Recipe

After milling our pumpkin purée from last week, I was fascinated by the pumpkin juice created via this grinding process. So, feeling particularly autumnal and adventurous, I set out to learn if pumpkin juice was actually something people drank, outside of the Harry Potter world, of course! It turns out, that not only can pumpkin juice be enjoyed alone, it can augment traditional apple cider into something even more reminiscent of the flavors of fall (and it can infuse your kitchen with an autumnal aroma that seems too perfect to be real)!

Spiced Pumpkin Cider

Yields approximately one quart of cider

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of apple cider (1/4 gallon)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin purée (feel free to add more, if you prefer a stronger pumpkin flavor)
  • 1 cup apricot nectar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried cloves
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried or fresh orange peel (the zest of half an orange worked well for me)

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, or until the mixture reaches a boil.
  2. Remove the mixture from the heat and pour through a wire strainer.
  3. Let cool and store in the fridge. This blend is also fantastic when hot, perfect for the impending autumnal chill!
Pumpkins, Apples, and Spices: The Flavors of Fall!

Pumpkins, Apples, and Spices: The Flavors of Fall!

With these fall recipes, a batch of warm pumpkin muffins, and mug of spiced pumpkin cider, you now have all the flavors of fall close at hand and ready to enjoy! I hope you’ll stop by this Saturday for an excavation into the aged art of transforming apples into butter!

For the history lovers in the audience, if you’re looking for a more in-depth look at the history of the pumpkin, we’ll be excavating that particular tradition in a couple weeks when we look at hard-shelled gourds!

Thanks for stopping by the dig!
~Nate

Categories: Autumn Recipes, Baking, Breakfast, Drink Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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