History

Year Round Recipes: Irish Onion Soup

Is there a more aromatically alluring allium than this?

Besides garlic, is there a more aromatically alluring allium than this?

With free time finally returning to my schedule, I decided to spend an afternoon finding a soul- and palate-satisfying recipe to replace the drab peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which have accompanied me to work over the past six months. And, despite the hot and sticky weather that’s been plaguing central PA recently, I found myself craving the sweet, historic tang of French onion soup. French onion has always been a favorite of mine, as it so exquisitely satisfies my love for root vegetables, melted cheese, and recipes designed by the ancient Greeks.

Although France didn’t quite exist when onion soups first debuted on the world stage, the use of fried/caramelized onions in soups eventually spread to the Anglo-Saxon and Gallic regions of pre-modern Europe, where they quickly became incorporated into the working-man’s repertoire of hearty, inexpensive sops. It’s important to note that a sop is far more than an apparent misspelling of “soup;” and, it is, in fact, an entirely different dish altogether! While the star attraction of a soup is the liquid and what’s incorporated into it, the whole point of a sop is the large hunk of (usually) crusty bread that gets plopped right in the center of a bowl of broth (which then “sops” up the soup!). The sop tradition carried through European time and space to eventually influence the great French chefs cuisiniers of the 17 century, who expertly combined their unmatched onion broths with large chunks of toasted French bread and inspired countless generations of future chefs to do the same.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m going on about French onion soup when we’re actually making Irish onion soup. And my answer to that is that we are, in fact, continuing the tradition of French onion, but with a slightly modern twist. Thanks to the ingenuity of The Beeroness, I’ve been inspired to try swapping out the white wine usually simmered into a classic French onion soup with a dark stout. Since the original onion soups of antiquity were concocted by the working class, this slight alteration seemed more fitting (and delicious!) than irreverent. So, let’s dig in!

Irish Onion Soup Recipe

 

Stout and onions: a surprisingly perfect combination.

Stout and onions: a surprisingly perfect combination.

Ingredients

  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds of white onions (about 3 medium sized onions)
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 12 ounce bottle of stout
  • 2 cups stock (beef or vegetable)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • French bread or croutons
  • 1 cup of shredded or sliced cheese (Gruyère is traditional, but a wide variety of easily melted cheeses will work)

Directions

  1. Peel and slice your onions into thin, 1/4″ rings.
  2. In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat and then add the onions, brown sugar, and salt. Mix well and let simmer for at least 50 minutes to 1 hour (trust me, the longer you let your onions cook, the sweeter and more caramelized they’ll be in the end). Stir onions every occasionally to ensure that they cook evenly without burning.
  3. When the onions have caramelized, stir in 1/2 cup of the stout and let simmer over medium heat until the beer dissipates and the pot is nearly dry.
  4. Pour in the remaining beer, stock, and black pepper. Return to a simmer and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
  5. Turn on your oven’s broiler; ladle the soup into oven-safe crocks; and top each crock with some French bread and cheese.
  6. Place prepared crocks under the broiler just until the cheese has melted.
  7. Serve and enjoy a modern twist on some delicious history!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s kitchen excavation! I hope you’ll stop by next time as we dig into the breadier side of French cuisine!

Keep digging!
~Nate

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Categories: Cooking, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Recipes: Strawberry Jam

Wow, it’s certainly been quite some time since I last gathered up my culinary excavation equipment and dug into a good recipe! To make a two and a half month story short, my now old job slowly grew to engulf most, if not all of my free time; and, as my average workday neared the 14 hour mark, my will to cook and write was wholly drained. Now, however, as I enter into a chapter of life that is far richer in time than in money, I’m rediscovering my kitchen and finally digging into some good eating. In celebration of this new era (and this hot, summery weather), I thought it would be fitting to try out a cooking style that’s all about looking towards the future: canning!

13. Submerge jars into the water bath, bring to a boil, and cook for 10 minutes

It may seem like a lot of work now, but trust me, you’ll be thankful you took the time to preserve a slice of summer once winter sets in!

While it may seem like the dog days of summer may never end (which may be good or bad depending on your disposition), the chilling reality remains that crisp fall and barren winter will invade our kitchens in time, taking away our immediate access to bright summer fruits and berries. So, in this present time of abundance, it only seems right to set aside some of the season’s eatings for our future selves to enjoy! Because once the doldrums of late January are upon us, cracking open a nearly forgotten jar of summer-infused jam might be all that stands between us and complete hibernal despair.

Dating back to at least the times of ancient Rome, strawberries have long been heralded for being a medicinal plant. However, as the red berry traveled across time and the European continent, the plant’s cultivation changed from a medicinal herb to a garden berry prized by the French kings. And, because of the plant’s unique method of growing via runners, it is believed by many culinary etymologists that the rather odd name “strawberry” actually comes from the pre-modern English verb “strew” (meaning “to spread”). Over time, the original English term “streabergen” gradually evolved into our modern “strawberry!” But, no matter what you call these summery red bells, they’re bound to make a wonderful jam. So, let’s dig in!

Strawberry Jam Recipe

Special Equipment

  • Boiling-water canner with rack
  • 6 – 8 Jam jars, lids, and rings
Strawberries: bursting with summer sun and natural sugars!

Strawberries: bursting with summer sun and natural sugars!

Ingredients

  • 4 pints of strawberries
  • 7 cups of sugar
  • 1.75 ounces or 1 full box of pectin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of butter (optional; including the butter will help reduce foam in your finished product)

Directions

  1. Fill your boiling-water canner halfway with water and bring to a simmer on the stove.
  2. Sanitize your jars, lids, and rings with hot, soapy water, then rinse with warm water. Place rings and lids in a small saucepan and fill with boiling water. Keep the lids and rings in the hot water until ready to use.
  3. To prep your berries, remove and discard any fruit that is visibly discolored or moldy, as this could introduce bacteria or spores to your final product that will spread throughout the jam.
  4. Remove the stems and cores of each berry, and mash one cup of berries at a time until you have exactly five cups of crushed strawberries.
  5. Place the mashed fruit, pectin, and butter into a large saucepan, and bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. You’ll know when you’ve reached a rolling boil when the mixture continues to boil even as you stir.
  6. When fully boiling, quickly stir in the sugar. Return the mixture to a rolling boil, and cook for 1 minute while still stirring constantly.
  7. Remove saucepan from heat and skim off any foam that may have formed.
  8. Ladle fruit mixture into your prepared jars, leaving 1/8 inch (1/3 cm) of room at the top of the jars. Wipe the jars and threads to make sure no fruit will interfere with the final seal of your jars. Tightly screw on the lids, place on the canning rack, and submerge jars into the boiling-water canner (make sure there is at least 1 – 2 inches [2.5 – 5 cm] of water over the jars). Bring the water to a light boil and process for 10 minutes to fully sanitize the jars and activate the lids’ seal.
  9. Remove the processed jars from the canner and place on a towel to cool completely.
  10. Let sit for 24 hours, and then move to a dark, dry place, where they will stay ready to enjoy for 1 year!
  11. Enjoy knowing that you’ve preserved a sliver of summer to brighten the rest of the year!

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As always, thanks for stopping by the dig! I hope you’re enjoying the fruits and flavors of summer as much as I am!

Until next time, keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, History, Preserving, Summer Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Recipes: Coleslaw

The time of the leafy greens is upon us!

The time of the leafy greens is upon us!

With our season of seemingly eternal winter coming to an end, the time has finally arrived to celebrate the classic cool-weather crops! Leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach, and cabbage are finally hitting their stride, what with deep freeze of winter past and the intense, leaf-wilting heat of summer still a month or two away. And, with the dawn of warmer weather, it’s hard to find a more enjoyable time to fire up the grill and enjoy the hamburgers, pulled pork, and other soul-satisfying entrees that seem so oddly out of place in the dead of winter. So, with the simultaneous burgeoning of cold crops and picnic foods, I can think of no better time of year to whip up the classic Dutch salad (or sandwich ingredient) coleslaw!

Literally translating to “cabbage salad” from the Dutch “koolsla,” coleslaw is a creamy, often vinegared amalgam of sliced cabbage and, quite honestly, whatever other veggies (or fruits!) you may have on hand. While coleslaw’s key component, mayonnaise, was only invented in the 1800’s, shredded cabbage salads have been eaten since the age of ancient Rome, some 2000 years ago! So, whether you prefer your coleslaw creamy and modern, or vinegary and archaic, this classic salad makes a perfect pairing with any of your favorite warm weather foods! So, let’s dig in!

Coleslaw Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 medium head of cabbage
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery seed

Directions

  1. Peel and shred the carrot, and finely chop the head of cabbage. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, milk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, and celery seed until smooth and creamy. Pour in the shredded carrot and chopped celery, and stir until the vegetables are fully coated in the mayo mixture.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight so that the cabbage can fully absorb the flavors of the dressing.
  4. After refrigerating, serve cold with a dusting of freshly ground pepper or on your favorite spring/summer sandwich! Enjoy!

 

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this kitchen excavation! I hope to see you next time for another taste of history’s cumulative cookbook!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Cooking, History, Spring Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pennsylvanian Recipes: Shoofly Pie

The sun setting on the Susquehanna river: another cornerstone of central PA life

The sun setting on the Susquehanna river: another cornerstone of central PA life

After an uncomfortably long hiatus from baking, researching, and digging into the history of the foods we enjoy every day, I’m overjoyed to be back and able to share another recipe with close cultural ties to the Pennsylvanian people. Since I’ve just moved to a small hamlet that holds many of my earliest, happiest memories, I thought I’d pay tribute to one of the favorite foods of the people who first founded this little river community: the enigmatically named shoofly pie. If you’re not familiar with this particular dessert, you’re not alone. From what I’ve been told, few communities outside of PA and parts of the south carry on the tradition of this rich and accessible dessert. At its core, shoofly pie is a dark, cake-like dish made with molasses that holds strong historic ties to the British treacle tart (a catch-all term for any number of sugar-syrup based pastries first popularized in the 17th century thanks to England’s access to roughly processed sugar). This British tradition followed the settlers to Pennsylvania as the earliest residents only had access to the supplies that could survive the arduous trek across the Atlantic Ocean; one such ingredient was the infinitely shelf-stable molasses, which formed the groundwork for great Pennsylvania Dutch recipes in the New World.

But before most visitors to the region even consider asking what shoofly pie contains or why it’s so popular, they usually want to know what’s going on with that name. Unfortunately, food historians can’t quite agree on the true origin of the name “shoofly,” however there are several popular theories to sate the curious cook. One of the simpler theories proffers that “Shoofly,” the name of an 18th century molasses company highly popular during the time of Pennsylvania’s colonization, simply lent its name to the recipe that relied so strongly on its chief export. But, the most popular theory looks back to the cooking methods of the early Pennsylvanian bakers. Cooking at this time was much more communal that it is today, with much of the baking being done outside in large community ovens. To produce a town-sized batch of shoofly pie required large amounts of molasses to sit outside awaiting use, attracting hungry crowds of humans and insects alike. With their natural affinity towards sugar, flies flocked to the sticky sweet molasses, which required that the townspeople to be on constant guard to shoo away the six-legged pests.

No matter the story you choose to believe, shoofly pie is a Pennsylvanian dessert that simply must be tried. So, without further ado, let’s dig into this sweetly dark and Dutch delicacy!

Shoofly Pie Recipe

 

Coffee and molasses are a perfect match for this historically dark dessert!

Coffee and molasses are a perfect match for this historically dark dessert!

Ingredients

  • 1 9 inch unbaked pie crust
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons softened butter
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1/2 cup warm, strong coffee (the darker the roast the better!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F / 175° C
  2. Combine the flour, sugars, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl, and mix with a pastry cutter or fork until crumbly. Transfer 1/4 of the crumb mixture to a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the molasses and coffee until the molasses dissolves. Slowly stir in the baking soda until dissolved.
  4. Pour the molasses into the large bowl of crumb and fold until smooth and well-combined. Pour this mixture into your pie shell and sprinkle with the crumb you set aside.
  5. Bake in your preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the filling has risen and has a cake-like consistency.
  6. Serve warm or cold and enjoy with a cup of strong coffee among friends!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s recipe! I hope to see you next week for another excavation into humanity’s communal storehouse of fascinating and delicious dishes!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Dessert, History, Pennsylvanian Recipes, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

St. Patrick’s Day Recipe: Colcannon

With the stresses of a tranquil life disturbed finally falling away, I’m once again taking time to savor the simple pleasures of life. Fleeting moments with friends and family have become increasingly more cherished as my free time is consumed by long days at work. With tomorrow marking a great Irish holiday honoring the life and service of Saint Patrick (through typically less-than-saintly celebration), I’ve been pondering the tenacity and fortitude displayed by the natives of the Emerald Isle. Now I could never equate my comparatively luxurious living conditions to the working class of the Irish and their ancient Celtic ancestors, but I cannot help sharing in their affinity for creating and appreciating beauty in simplicity.

Potatoes: the humble base for many an Irish dish

Potatoes: the humble base for many an Irish dish

This past week, I had the privilege of preparing and sharing one of the creations of the pragmatically aesthetic people of pre-industrial Ireland: colcannon. As potatoes arrived in Europe in the 16th century, Ireland quickly took to the tuber simply as a means of staving off starvation. But, when Irish cooks combined mashed potatoes with their native leafy crops (like kale and cabbage, the use of which dates back to the ancient Celts), the lowly spud was transformed into a cultural dish worth celebrating. In fact, as the recipe for colcannon spread to England and the continent, it was widely regarded as a dish fit for the upper class, a far cry from its original audience. So today, on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, I would like to pass this wonderful example of Irish culinary prowess onto you! The recipe I’ve been using relies primarily on cabbage and onions, but if you would like to throw in some kale, garlic, or even beans, these variations would all fit in with the traditional definition of Irish colcannon! And don’t be afraid to add in some of your own local and cultural ingredients: the basic process of this dish provides a wonderful backdrop to illuminate your own culinary surroundings!

Let’s dig in!

Colcannon Recipe

Cabbage and onion: the unsung heroes of this classic Irish dish

Cabbage and onion: the unsung heroes of this classic Irish dish

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds of potatoes peeled and cubed (about 8 medium potatoes)
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1/2 head of chopped cabbage
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used soy)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place your cubed potatoes in a medium or large saucepan and cover with water. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender enough to offer no resistance when a knife is inserted. When potatoes are finished cooking, drain and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until both sides are evenly brown and crisp. Save the drippings in the skillet, and place cooked bacon on a paper towel to dry. Crumble dried bacon and set aside.
  3. In the bacon drippings, sauté the cabbage and onion until soft and lightly brown.
  4. In a large bowl (or the original saucepan), mash the potatoes with the milk until smooth. Fold in the bacon, cabbage, and onion and season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  5. Top with butter and enjoy a taste of true Irish cooking!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope you have a wonderful day celebrating Irish culture and heritage, and I hope to see you next time as we unearth another recipe from humanity’s communal cupboard!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Cooking, History, Holiday Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Rice Pudding

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been reminded in subtle (and less-than-subtle) ways that sometimes, life can be unpredictable, unrelenting, and holistically draining. And, as much as we like to think that we’re strong enough to handle life’s challenges alone, it’s become incredibly clear to me that it’s not innately incorrect to need to rely on others and outside forces to weather life’s storms. And, while I still feel that I’m in the middle of one of these maelstroms, I thought I’d share a rather simple recipe that I’ve long held as a satisfying balm for the soul. Oddly in line with my youthful associations with the dish, rice pudding originated in several ancient civilizations in the Middle East and Asia as a medicinal, not culinary recipe. Designed to treat digestive ailments in people of all ages, rice pudding has a long and storied history as a catch-all cure for the stomach, the alleged “seat of the soul” for some ancient religions and philosophies. So, whether your stomach or your soul is in need of some old-world healing, I can’t suggest this recipe for rice pudding any higher. Just be careful: once you make one bowl of this enlightening dish, you might soon find yourself readying another sooner than you think!

Let’s dig in!

Rice Pudding Recipe

 

Rice: soothing stomachs and souls for millennia!

Rice: soothing stomachs and souls for millennia!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup medium or short grain rice (make sure your rice isn’t the traditional long grain variety-only the medium and short grain rice will “melt” down to that smooth and creamy consistency)
  • 2 cups milk (I used soy)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2/3 cup raisins [Optional]
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Stir in the 3/4 cup of rice and reduce the heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the milk, the sugar, and salt. Turn the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 15 – 20 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy.
  3. Mix in the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, the beaten egg, and the optional raisins. Keep cooking for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla until combined.
  5. Enjoy warm or cool, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg for even more soul-satisfying flavor!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you next time as we excavate another of the world’s greatest culinary creations!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Cooking, Dessert, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Angel Food Cake

With our recent excursions to Aztec-era Mexico and the California crops of today, I thought it was time to return to my Pennsylvanian roots (and our less-than-tropical climate) for this week’s recipe of angel food cake. Thanks to the culinary archeologists who have researched Pennsylvania’s historic cookware and crockery, angel food cake (or as it was known in the early – mid 19th century, “snowdrift cake”) is actually a Pennsylvanian invention, thanks to the overabundance of historic tube pans discovered in early Pennsylvanian towns (tube pans being the smooth bundt-cake style pan that angel food cake is typically made in). But, even with its potentially northern inception, angel food cake truly caught on in the antebellum South because of one horrific practice: slavery.

A bowl of egg whites, sugar, and a lot of time and energy

A bowl of egg whites, sugar, and a lot of time and energy

Not unlike the scullery maids who allowed early English land barons to produce bigger and better culinary creations at the expense of their workers’ health and safety, African American slaves supplied the sheer manpower necessary to create the light and fluffy creations desired by southern plantation owners. Angel food cake batter, because of its high egg-white content, must be whipped with consistent, arm-crippling force for ten, fifteen, even twenty or more minutes to turn a veritable puddle of egg into a dense, rich foam. Because of the sheer time and energy requirement behind dishes like angel food, producing these types of desserts for friends, and neighbors became a show of status and wealth. Closing a meal with a plate of angel food in the days before electric mixers told your audience that you not only had the means to pay for a person or team of cooks and kitchen hands, but that you also had enough surplus labor to dedicate one or more slaves to the sole purpose of whipping egg whites. Thankfully, with the abolition of slavery, kitchen scientists stepped in to take away the brute force needed to whip egg whites (first with mechanical egg beaters and now with electric mixers, immersion blenders, and the like).

For our angel food recipe today, we’ll be using a set of instructions geared towards the modern kitchen. However, if you’re interested in making angel food cake traditionally, the 1881 cookbook of Abby Fisher, a former slave, (appropriately titled “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking“), is still in print and widely available! I encourage you to at least attempt whipping your egg whites with nothing more than a balloon whisk, if only to gain a small sense of what pre-electric cooking was like; and then, after your arm gives out after several minutes like mine did, feel free to switch to your electric mixer with a renewed appreciation for modern food tech!

Angel Food Cake Recipe

 

The edible cloud

An edible cloud

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 egg whites (Be careful if you’re planning on using a carton of pre-separated egg whites, as these are generally treated in such a way that the whites will not whip up successfully)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and 3/4 cup of granulated sugar. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg whites, vanilla extract, cream of tartar, and salt. Whip by hand, or with an electric mixture until the mixture turns white and forms medium-stiff peaks. Slowly add in the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar, and continue to whip until the batter forms stiff peaks.
  3. In three additions, fold the flour and sugar mixture into the egg whites, being careful not to overmix.
  4. Preheat your oven to 375°F / 190°C.
  5. Pour the completed batter into a completely clean, dry, and ungreased tube pan (any residue in the pan could interfere with the whites’ ability to expand. Bake in your preheated oven for 30 – 45 minutes (begin checking the cake at 30 minutes to stave off overcooking), or until the top is brown, and the cracks in the top are dry.
  6. To cool, turn the tube pan upside down, balance the pan on top of a bottle, and let cool completely. When cooled, run a knife along the edge of the cake and remove the angel food gently from the pan.
  7. Slice and enjoy with a a topping of fresh fruit, whipped cream, or on its own for a taste of heaven on earth.

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you again as we unearth another of humanity’s collective culinary creations!

Keep digging,
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Breakfast, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Winter Recipes: Hot Cross Buns

Brr.

Brr.

As yet another severe winter storm whips its way through the eastern United States, bringing nearly a foot of snow and another round of dangerously low wind chills, I couldn’t help but daydream of sunny days, green trees, and warm spring breezes while shoveling the driveway, ankle-deep in crystalline cold. And, as my thoughts meandered towards spring, my appetite seemed to follow. Over the last several days, I’ve had an odd craving for hot cross buns, a classically springtime treat, marked by its symbolic association with the Easter season. But, even though Easter and warm weather are still so far away, I thought I’d still take the time to cross a few buns in hope of warmer days!

Not Crossed Buns

Not Crossed Buns

Composed of spiced dough speckled with fruit (typically raisins, currants, or sultanas), and topped with the eponymous cross, hot cross buns (or just “cross buns,” as they were known in their homeland of 15th century England) have captivated the hearts, minds, and spirits of the western world for at least 600 years. Although little evidence exists to support the claim, some food archaeologists believe the crossed bun actually dates to the religious rituals of the Saxons in 9th century England, where they were used to honor the goddess Eostre, an alleged deity whose impact on western culture is still hotly contested. Whatever their origin, the hot cross bun serves as a delicious staple to warm our way through the rest of this wintry weather, and keep our minds fixed on spring!

Now, as this recipe is of British origin, there are a few features to this process that are (unfortunately) foreign to the average American baker. First, because much of the world uses scales in the kitchen, many of the measurements for this recipe are by weight, not volume (though I’ll convert these measures as accurately as possible). Second, this recipe calls for “mixed spice,” a blend of warm spices not unlike pumpkin pie spice. To make a small batch of mixed spice for yourself, simply combine the following ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove

With our British to American conversions out of the way, lets dig into some hot cross buns!

Hot Cross Buns Recipe

Cool Crossed Buns

Cold Crossed Buns

Makes 12 Buns

Ingredients for Buns

  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk (100 F / 37 C)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 600 grams (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon mixed spice
  • 50 grams (about 1/4 cup) melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup raisins (or dried fruit of choice)
  • [Optional] 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Ingredients for Crosses

  • 6 Tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup water

Ingredients for Glaze

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons water

Directions

  1. Combine the yeast, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and warm milk in a small bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes or until the yeast proofs and becomes foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, mixed spice, and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Pour in the yeast mixture, melted butter, egg, raisins, and chocolate chips. Stir until the mixture becomes a rough dough.
  3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, springy, and only lightly sticky.
  4. Place the kneaded dough into a lightly oiled bowl and roll the dough to coat in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm location to rise for 1 hour.
  5. When the dough has risen, place the dough back onto a floured surface and roll into a log. Divide the log into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place into a greased, floured 8 x 8 cake tin, or a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Cover your pan(s) with a clean towel and let rise for another 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat your oven to 390 F / 200 C.
  7. To make the crosses, combine the flour and water in a small bowl, then place in a ziploc or piping bag. Cut off the corner of your bag and pipe lines across your buns to make the crosses.
  8. Bake the buns for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the tops are well browned. When the buns are between 5 – 10 minutes from being finished, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan to begin making the glaze. Heat the sugar water over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside.
  9. When your hot cross buns have finished baking, remove from the oven and brush each bun with the glaze. Let the buns cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer the buns to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Enjoy a spiced, crossed morsel of English history with your own batch of hot cross buns. To truly maximize their flavor, heat the buns in the microwave for about 40 seconds and top with butter for a classic crossed bun experience!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! May your weather be more pleasant than ours!

Stay warm and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Dessert, History, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Winter Recipes: Cranberry Flaugnarde

Still life from the home of Julia Felix in the Roman town of Pompeii

Still life from the home of Julia Felix in the Roman town of Pompeii depicting the use of bird and egg in the home

With my recently acquired passion for French cuisine still burning brightly, I thought it only fair to share an ancient French recipe that’s currently topping my all-time winter favorites: the flaugnarde (pronounced “flow-nyard”)! Now, to be fair, the true origin of this recipe lies not with the French, but with the ancient Romans. Credited with being one of, if not the, first civilization to domesticate and farm chickens, ancient Roman food scientists finally had the raw materials necessary to unlock the seemingly limitless cooking potential held within the humble egg. Out of their undoubtedly delicious research, Roman bakers were the first to produce what is today known as the flan, an egg-based custard dish that we tend to associate with Central and South American cooking. In Rome, the flan was generally considered a savory dish, being made from and served with meat and fish. However, as Rome’s borders expanded, and its recipes charged across the European countryside, the native, conquered cultures began experimenting with Rome’s cutting-edge cuisine. In the Occitan regions of southern France, resident chefs began turning the Romans’ savory flan into a sweet dessert that highlighted the fruits of the region. And, when the Roman empire eventually collapsed and receded back to the Italian peninsula, the French natives were able to freely transition egg custard from the Roman flan to the French flaugnarde, allowing the modern baker to enjoy the fruits of over two thousand years of culinary experimentation!

With a history steeped in cultural alteration, you should feel free to change the contents of this recipe to fit your locale and season! Because of the scarcity of fruits in the winter, I’ve simply chosen a recipe that features cranberries in order to fit my present situation; but, if you find yourself craving a flaugnarde in the summer, perhaps lemon and blueberry would be a better fit, or apple and orange for the fall, or simply whatever you have on hand. But, whatever you choose, know that you’re contributing to a grand, millennia-long experiment to find the perfect flaugnarde!

Cranberry Flaugnarde Recipe

Over 2,000 years of culinary wisdom in a single baking dish

Over 2,000 years of culinary wisdom in a single baking dish

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3/8 cup of all-purpose flour (6 Tablespoons)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 – 2 cups of fresh or thawed cranberries

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 F / 205 C.
  2. Brush the melted butter on the bottom and sides of a shallow baking dish (a pie plate worked fine for me), and sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of granulated sugar over the bottom of the buttered dish.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining sugar, flour, and salt until combined.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, and extract until blended.
  5. Mix half of the egg and cream mixture into the dry ingredients. Repeat with the remaining half, and whisk until smooth.
  6. Pour the combined mixture into your prepared baking dish and sprinkle with cranberries (I ended up using about 2 cups of berries, but whatever you have on hand will do).
  7. Place the dish on a baking tray, and bake in your preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the flaugnarde puffs up and begins to lightly brown at the sides (the center will not be fully set when finished).
  8. When your flaugnarde has finished baking, sprinkle it with a bit more sugar, and allow to cool slightly before serving either warm or cold.
  9. Enjoy a sweet, tart bite of French and Roman culinary history!

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As always, thanks for stopping by the dig! I hope to see you this Tuesday for another look at a recipe that’s filled with as much history as it is flavor!

Keep digging!
~Nate

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

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