Posts Tagged With: recipe

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

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

Year Round Recipes: Chocolate, Avocado, and Pistachio Sandwich Cookies

While I typically like to keep my my ingredients local and seasonal, I do, for very special cases, go against my culinary conscience and indulge in the omnipresent agriculture of our modern world. This past week has been full of these special cases. With the weather finally breaking away from this year’s unusually frigid tendencies, I splurged and celebrated like only the Aztecs could, with a bitter chocolate drink imbued with the essence of Mexican chiles. And now, at the end of this most special of weeks, I couldn’t help but pull one last ingredient from the west coast of the North American continent: the great Californian avocado.

Avocados and Pistachios: two of the west coast's most delicious exports!

Avocados and Pistachios: two of the west coast’s most delicious exports!

Several months ago, two of the greatest people whom I’ve ever had the honor and pleasure of calling friends moved from this frigid clime to the ever-pleasant land of San Diego, California. And just as the clouds of winter finally broke (and are scheduled to return in the next few days), their absence from our Pennsylvanian lives was temporarily put on hold with a short visit this past week. So, in honor of our friends’ new home on the west coast, and for the light and warmth they’ve brought to us back east, I couldn’t help but try out a recipe that subtly features the avocado, the crop that many consider to be the epitome of Californian farming. Typically, when we think “avocado,” our minds immediately conjure up images of guacamole; and, while I adore guacamole in its season (preferably when local tomatoes and veggies are ripening here in the east), I was struck by a recipe by Kylie Held on immaeatthat.com. Instead of the traditionally savory uses for avocado, she presents a new way of viewing this creamy crop as a butter substitute in frosting. So, thoroughly fascinated, and aching for an innovative and inspiring avocado recipe, I couldn’t help but dig in!

Chocolate, Avocado, and Pistachio Sandwich Cookies

 

Sixteen cookies brimming with Californian flavor!

Sixteen cookies brimming with Californian flavor

Ingredients for the Frosting

  • 2 ripe California avocados
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/3 + 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Ingredients for Cookies

  • 1 cup almond flour (lacking almond flour, I used all-purpose, which produced a lighter, but no less tasty cookie)
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup whole and halved pistachios + 1/4 cup chopped pistachios
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Scoop out the flesh of the avocados into a medium mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until smooth.
  2. Add cocoa powder, honey, vanilla, and almond extracts, and continue mixing until incorporated and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
  3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the two flours, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, and 1/4 cup of whole/halved pistachios (set aside the chopped pistachios for now). Stir in the coconut oil, honey, egg, and almond extract to form a dough.
  4. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces, place on an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten until each cookie is round and thin.
  5. Bake at 350° F (175° C) for 10 – 15 minutes, or until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. When your cookies are cool, spoon the chocolate avocado frosting onto 8 of the cookies, and top with the additional 8 cookies to make your sandwiches. Roll each cookie in the additional 1/4 cup of chopped pistachios so that they stick to the sides of each sandwich.
  7. Chill in the freezer for 4 hours or overnight, or until the frosting fully hardens.
  8. Enjoy with a glass of milk, tea, or coffee, and be sure to take a moment to appreciate the wonderful people on the west coast as you do!

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

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

Year Round Recipes: Sugar and Spice Pull-Apart Bread

With February and Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I was hoping to attempt a dessert this weekend that, for me at least, represents some of the history of the holiday’s founder, Saint Valentine. Unfortunately though, this recipe (which I will hopefully attempt next weekend) required the use of a friend’s typically outdoor deep fryer. And, with several inches of snow allegedly in the forecast (as of this afternoon, the forecast seems woefully incorrect), said deep fryer would have to wait until the skies cleared. So, using what I had on hand, I thought I’d share one of my favorite styles of yeasted dessert in the meantime: pull-apart bread!

Intricately simple, and incredibly delicious!

Intricately simple, and incredibly delicious!

Hailing back to at least the 1940’s, the pull-apart bread is a fun, easy-to-make dessert that can be adapted to any season or taste. Adding a little pumpkin puree to the batter can transform this year round recipe into an autumnal classic, or even throwing a few sliced peaches or strawberries into the mix could suit the lighter, sweeter tastes of summer! However, for beating back the dreary January forecast, I prefer to stick with a classic sugar and spice variation. Typically, my spice of choice would be tried and true cinnamon, but with some mixed spice leftover from our hot cross bun excavation (you can find the recipe for the buns and the mixed spice here: Hot Cross Buns), I couldn’t pass up the chance to experiment with a spicier-than-usual loaf of pull-apart bread!

Sugar and Spice Pull-Apart Bread

 

The groundwork for a tasty loaf of spiced sweetness

The groundwork for a tasty loaf of spiced sweetness

Ingredients for the Bread:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon (one packet) active dry yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs

Ingredients for the Sugar and Spice Topping

  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice

Directions

  1. Place the butter and milk into a small saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the butter melts. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from heat, stir in the water and vanilla extract, and let cool until between 100 – 110 degrees F / 37 – 43 C. Stir in the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and let proof for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is light and foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 2 1/4 cups of flour, remaining sugar, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the 2 eggs and set aside.
  4. Pour yeast mixture into the flour and stir until combined. Mix in the whisked eggs until a rough dough is formed. Knead in the last 3/4 cup of flour, turn dough onto a floured surface, and knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is elastic and only slightly sticky (you may need to add some extra flour to cut down on the potential stickiness of the dough).
  5. Place your kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar and spices in a small bowl and set aside.
  7. When your dough has risen, return it to a floured surface and roll it into a roughly 12 x 20 inch (30 x 50 cm) rectangle. Brush the dough with the melted butter and coat completely with the sugar and spice mixture.
  8. Slice the dough into 6 equal vertical strips (see pictures below for a visual guide). Stack the strips on top of each other and slice into 6 equal stacks of square pieces. Layer the dough squares in a 9 x 5 greased, floured loaf pan. Cover the pan with a clean towel and let rest and expand for 30 – 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C. Bake your pull-apart loaf in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until deeply golden brown (if you remove the loaf when it’s only light brown, the body of the bread will most likely still be undercooked).
  10. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to continue cooling completely.
  11. Enjoy a warm, spicy piece of pull-apart bread!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this weekend’s recipe!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Dessert, Odds and Ends, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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