Winter 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

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

Year Round Recipes: Rugelach

With a new blizzard, nor’easter, or ice storm being forecast seemingly every other day here in the northeast U.S., I’ve been on a mission to preserve the memory and hope of warmer days, even in the face of such wintry opposition. And, after opening up some of last year’s peach preserves for the jam sandwich cookies we made a couple weeks ago, I’ve been itching to find another recipe that could highlight such a sweet summery flavor, especially while we’re still in the dead of winter. With this goal in mind, I decided to return to the cuisine of Russia and Eastern Europe to find a culinary escape from thoughts of ice and snow (what better place to find examples of winter escapism than a land plagued by severe winters?). While digging up the culinary treasures of this expansive corner of the world, I stumbled across a twisting, crescent-shaped pastry that seemed to answer all of the desires I held for this week’s recipe: it originated in Eastern Europe, it’s typically filled with fruit preserves, and, as an added bonus, has an origin shrouded in mystery!

It's not hard to see how these delicious little pastries earned the title of "little twists!"

It’s not hard to see how these delicious little pastries earned the title of “little twists!”

This culinary form takes on a different name in each country that makes it, so for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to call this pastry by its traditional Jewish name, “rugelach” (translating literally to “little twists”). With such a widespread distribution in many Eastern European countries, no one seems to know exactly where the rugelach first came from, only that it is a distinctly Jewish invention. As it has no attachment to any Jewish holiday, the rugelach is a perfect year round recipe that can be altered to fit whatever season you’re in! For today, though, we’re going to capitalize on the rugelach’s affinity for fruit preserves and make a peach and pecan variation of this centuries old pastry!

Rugelach Recipe

Ingredients for Pastry

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

 

Peaches and pecans are a perfect pair of cold-banishing flavors!

Peaches and pecans are a perfect pair of cold-banishing flavors!

Ingredients for Filling

  • 6 Tablespoons fruit preserves (apricot is traditional, but any fruit will really work!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (or a mixture of both)
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer. Add in sugar, vanilla extract, and salt, and beat until fluffy and combined.
  2. Mix in 1 and 1/4 cup of the flour slowly until the flour incorporates with the batter. Mix in the remaining 1 cup of flour and repeat, being careful not to over mix the dough.
  3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 – 20 seconds, just to ensure that the flour has completely mixed into the dough. Divide the kneaded dough into three equal parts, wrap the pieces in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours, or until the dough is firm.
  4. Meanwhile, to make the filling, combine the chopped nuts, granulated and brown sugars, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
  5. When the dough has chilled, remove one part from the refrigerator, place on a floured surface, and roll out into a circle. Top the circle with 2 Tablespoons of fruit preserves, leaving one inch of room around the edge, and then sprinkle with one third of the nut/sugar mixture. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the circle into 16 equal pieces.
  6. Working from the widest end of each segment, roll each piece of dough to form a small crescent shape (see pictures below for a visual guide). Be careful not to roll the dough too tightly or the filling will spill out of the pastry, which can cause the dough to burn in the oven. Place the rolled rugelach on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
  7. Repeat this process for the remaining two pieces of refrigerated dough.
  8. Bake in a 350 F / 175 C oven for 30 minutes, or until the pastries are just lightly brown.
  9. When the rugelach has finished baking, let them cool completely on the baking sheets before enjoying!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you again soon for another kitchen excavation!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Dessert, Winter Recipes, Year Round 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

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

New Years Recipes: Cranberry Lemon Bundt Cake

The Search for Completion

The Circular Bundt: a delicious way to round out this year and bring good fortune (or at least good flavor) to the next!

As we stand on the clove between two years, it’s nearly impossible to refrain from looking back and critiquing our experiences in 2013. For many of us, myself included, it’s almost natural to feel that the year is unfinished, that there is still so much to do, remedy, and enjoy. Looking at the world’s New Years traditions (something we explored more in depth last Saturday), it would seem that this quasi-obsession with all that has been left incomplete in the year greatly affected our ancient ancestors as well. As mentioned in our last excavation, many cultures have long sought after circular foods to be eaten near the year’s end in order to bring completion to the past twelve months. In Spain, participants of the tradition will eat twelve grapes to round out the year and bring fortune to the next. For the Philippines, twelve different, round fruits are eaten to cultivate a similar effect. In other cultures, as mentioned before, lentils take the place as the revered, year-completing foodstuff. With all of these (and many more) circular traditions whirling about this most imminent holiday, I thought it would be fun to join in this ancient celebration of the completion of the year by baking the most circular of modern desserts: the bundt cake! And, just to top off the already round nature of the bundt, I was inspired by 10thkitchen to include an added layer of circular complexity with Meyer lemons and cranberries, making this recipe perfect for celebrating (and resolving) the year’s end with those you love!

Cranberry Lemon Bundt Cake

Ingredients

  • 3 cups white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • zest from 2 Meyer lemons
  • 3/4 cup softened butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups fresh cranberries

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C and butter and flour a bundt pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest until evenly distributed.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar mixture with an electric mixer until light and fluffy (about two minutes).
  5. Beat the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture one at a time, then add the vanilla extract.
  6. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream in 2 additions.
  7. Fold in the fresh cranberries and pour into your prepared cake pan, smoothing out the top.
  8. Bake for 50 minutes – 1 hour, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. When ready to serve, simply dust the cake with powdered sugar and enjoy a zesty slice of symbolism!

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Thank you, as always for stopping by the dig! I’ve had a blast digging up recipes with you this year, and I can’t wait to see what we uncover in 2014!

Happy New Year, and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Dessert, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year Recipes: Lucky Ham and Lentil Soup

From humanity’s first steps into civilization to our post-postmodern cultures, we have always been a people fascinated by time. Today, it seems a simple fact of life that we inhabit a planet suspended in a near-infinite vastness which orbits a flaming orb of molten fusion whose light and heat radiation grants us the day/night and seasonal cycles we take for granted. However, for our ancient ancestors, who were without a longstanding, scientific record of the nature of the cosmos, these cycles were anything but certain. As religion and faith wove into human existence, supernatural meaning was attributed to the shifting sun. For many cultures, the sun became a god or entity who was continually fighting for his survival. In the spring and summer months, the sun was the unbridled champion of the sky, ruling with long days and short nights; but, as winter approached, the sun began to falter and the night again grew strong. After the winter solstice passed, celebrations at the end of December (many on December 25th) shook the ancient world as the sun remained victorious for another cycle.

As modern people, we tend to look at our ancestor’s end-of-year beliefs as uninformed foolishness which have no place in our rational world. But, as the new year grows closer, we seem to, if only by accidental tradition, slip back into the superstitions and festivals of our ancestors in order to instill luck in the coming year. In many modern cultures, coins are given as gifts (or baked into breads) at New Year feasts as a way of bestowing the spirit of fortune on those we love. In some circles, cooked turkey or fowl fly the revelers towards a better year. Other cultures heartily disagree with this belief, as birds “scratch backwards” to find food, a sure sign of hard times for the new year. Instead, it is believed that pigs are the true guardians of good luck (whether real or pretend, like the marzipan pigs of Germany), as they “root forward” to better pastures. And finally, lentils of any variety (particularly black eyed peas in America’s southern states) are said to inspire good luck and fortune because of their round coin-like appearance, signifying the completion of the old year and the fortune of the next. Because my background lies in several of these traditions, I thought it only appropriate to share one of my family’s favorite soup recipes that’s as delicious as is it lucky!

Lucky Ham and Lentil Soup

Cold weather veggies: a perfect addition to a soup full of luck and flavor!

Cold weather veggies: a perfect addition to a soup full of luck and flavor!

Ingredients

  •  Leftover chopped ham and ham hock (this is a great way to use any leftover ham from Christmas!)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 chopped celery stalks
  • 4 chopped carrots
  • 4 medium potatoes, chopped (optional)
  • 1 pound of lentils/beans
  • 12 ounces of diced, canned tomatoes
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 teaspoons ham soup base
  • 32-64 ounces of chicken stock (2 cartons)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Soak lentils in 2 quarts of water overnight to rehydrate. Drain thoroughly after the lentils have soaked.
  2. Mix ham soup base and hot water together and pour into a large stock pot. Add in the onion, celery, carrots, potatoes, lentils, tomatoes, and ham Muddle or smash some of the beans to fully release their flavor.
  3. Pour in 32 ounces of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cover and continue boiling for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to keep the soup from sticking to the pot. If the soup begins to look dry, gradually add in more of the chicken stock.
  4. After the soup has boiled for an hour, remove the ham bone and cut off any meat still attached. Chop this meat into small cubes and return to the pot.
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer for 2 – 3 hours and occasionally sip to taste. You can also move the soup to a crock pot/slow cooker for this step.
  6. When the soup is at your preferred consistency, season to taste and enjoy a bowl of lucky lentil soup!

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As always, thanks for stopping by the dig! Be sure to stop back in on Tuesday for another recipe unearthed specifically for the New Year!

Happy holidays and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Cooking, History, Odds and Ends, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Christmas Recipes: Cranberry Cheesecake Bites

With many of my close friends and relatives being either lactose intolerant or vegan, it’s always an exciting challenge to find ways to turn classic, milk-based recipes into something everyone can enjoy. Topping the list of requests is the infamous cheesecake, whose name proudly declares its thoroughly dairy-ed nature. But, thanks to modern food science, even the mighty cheesecake can be made dairy free (and in many cases, completely vegan)! So this year, I thought I’d try an exciting adaptation of the classic cheesecake that I found at The Craving Chronicles which features a perfectly seasonal cranberry jelly!

Cranberry Cheesecake Bites

 

Sweet, tart cranberry jelly: a perfect winter preserve!

Sweet, tart cranberry jelly: a perfect winter preserve!

Ingredients for Jelly

  • 1 pound of fresh, whole cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons of lemon juice

Ingredients for Graham Cracker Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups ground graham crackers
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Ingredients for Cheesecake

  • 16 ounces of cream cheese (Tofutti’s “Better than Cream Cheese” is a wonderfully dairy-free option)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Directions

  1. For the jelly: Combine the cranberries, sugar, and apple cider in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat. When the cranberries start to crack and break down, remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour through a fine strainer and squeeze out as much liquid from the berries as possible. Store in the refrigerator overnight or until set.
  2. For the crust:  Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with a double-layer of aluminum foil (leave a sizeable overhang to make removing the cheesecake easier) and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, butter, and cinnamon in a medium bowl until well blended. Press the mixture into the lined 8 x 8 baking pan, and place in the freezer until needed.
  3. Preheat your oven to 325 F / 160 C.
  4. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese for 1 – 2 minutes, or until light and creamy. Add eggs and sugar and mix until combined. Slowly mix in the vanilla and salt.
  5. Pour the cheesecake mixture into your chilled crust, and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the edges are set and brown (the center will still jiggle some). Refrigerate finished cheesecake for 4 hours or up to 2 days.
  6. About one hour before serving, heat the cranberry jelly for 20 – 30 seconds in the microwave and stir to make pourable. Spread evenly over the chilled cheesecake and return to the refrigerator for one hour.
  7. To serve, lift the cheesecake out of the pan by the foil, cut into bite-sized bars (or serve whole), and enjoy!

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

Christmas Recipes: Baklava

Originally hailing from the great Ottoman Empire in the 15th-16th century, and entering into my own cultural history from a Greek Orthodox Bazaar in the early 21st century, baklava stands as my most often-made dessert. Known for its seemingly infinite layers of crisp pastry, nutty filling, and light honeyed sweetness, baklava has long been a holiday staple for our family. Plus, the finished product looks masterfully complex, but is secretly quite simple, making this dish perfect for wowing your guests this holiday season!

Baklava Recipe

Ingredients for Pastry

15th Century Baklava: Perfect for any modern feast!

15th Century Baklava: Perfect for any modern feast!

 

  • 1 (16 ounce) package of phyllo dough
  • 1 pound chopped nuts (walnuts and pecans combine beautifully)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup melted butter (depending on how much butter you use for each layer, this amount can be reduced drastically)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Ingredients for Glaze

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup honey

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C, and butter a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. Mix the nuts and cinnamon in a small bowl until well combined and set aside.
  3. Unroll your phyllo dough and cut in half to fit to the size of the pan. Cover your extra phyllo dough with a damp cloth to keep it from drying out and cracking.
  4. Place 2 sheets of phyllo at the bottom of your pan and brush with butter. Repeat four times until you have 8 sheets at the bottom of your pan.
  5. Top the dough with 2-3 Tablespoons of nuts. Cover the nuts with two sheets of phyllo, brush with melted butter, and again top with nuts. Continue this pattern until you fill the pan.
  6. When you reach your final layer, top with another 8 sheets of phyllo and brush with butter.
  7. Use a sharp knife to cut the uncooked baklava into squares or diamonds. Bake in your preheated oven for 50 minutes or until the baklava is a deep golden color.
  8. While the baklava is baking, mix the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Heat until boiling. Stir in the vanilla extract and honey and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
  9. When the baklava has finished cooking, immediately cover with the sauce. Allow the pastry to completely cool before serving, and store uncovered to prevent the pastry from getting soggy.

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

Year Round Recipes: Chinese Tea Eggs

‘Tis the Season for Tea Eggs

Chinese Tea Eggs: Intricately beautiful cuisine that's stunningly simple to make yourself!

Chinese Tea Eggs: Intricately beautiful cuisine that’s stunningly simple to make yourself!

For all that I love about my hometown’s culture and history, I have always been slightly underwhelmed by our region’s lack of multicultural cuisine (besides that of continental Europe, of course). Because of this, I’ve always jumped at the opportunity to try recreating classic dishes from cultures that haven’t influenced our corner of the world quite as strongly as some. One such dish, the Chinese Tea Egg, has since become a sort of Christmas-time tradition for me, even though the ingredients are readily available year round, and true tea eggs from China are likely served by street vendors every night of the year. However, the blend of warming tea and spices that subtly sink into the eggs speak strongly to me of winter cooking, and for the past few years, that just happens to be when I feel drawn to making my annual batch of tea eggs. And, when paired with freshly toasted sesame seeds, these eggs make a stunning side dish for any Christmas dinner!

Chinese Tea Eggs with Toasted Sesame Seeds

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons of black tea leaves (roughly 4 bags of tea)
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice
  • Sesame Seeds (white or black)

Directions

  1. Place eggs in a large pot and cover with cold water. Heat until the water begins to boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and allow to simmer for 12 minutes.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and remove the eggs from the pot. Using a spoon, carefully crack the shell of each egg to produce a veined, spiderweb of cracks across the eggs.
  3. Stir the tea, salt, and five spice into the cooking water and return the cracked eggs to the pot. Cover the pot and let the eggs simmer for 1 hour.
  4. After simmering for an hour, remove the pot from the heat and let cool for 30 minutes.
  5. Peel one egg to check the color of the eggs. If they are dark enough for you, remove all eggs from the water; if the lines on the egg are quite light, allow the eggs to sit in the liquid for additional time.
  6. When your eggs have finished soaking and you are ready to serve, quickly toast the sesame seeds in a large frying pan over medium heat for 1-3 minutes. This will allow the seeds to release their true, nutty flavor and aroma, which adds an extra dimension of flavor to your tea eggs.
  7. Enjoy your tea eggs whole or quartered with a sprinkling of toasted sesame!

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Categories: Cooking, Odds and Ends, Winter Recipes, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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