Treat Yourself to a Piece of History!

Treat Yourself to a Piece of History!

The sweet tooth of the world can be traced back around 4,000 years, however, the most popular delicacy of all time did not appear until the time of the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures.

600 A.D. the Mayans migrated into the northern regions of South America. The earliest known cocoa plantations were established in the Yucatan. Both Mayans and Aztecs used the beans from the cacao tree and made a drink they called xocoatl. Aztec legends say the cacao seeds had come from Paradise and people who partook of the seeds gained wisdom.

Ancient Mexicans worshiped Tonacetecutli, the goddess of food, and Calchiuhtlucue, the goddess of water. The believed the two goddesses were the guardians of cocoa. With that in mind, each year, human sacrifices were performed to the goddesses. Part of the victim’s last meal?? Cocoa!

In the 1700’s, Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus, renamed ‘cocoa’ to ‘theobroma’ which is Greek for ‘food of the gods’.

It is purported that cacao beans were brought back to the court of King Ferdinand by Christopher Columbus from his fourth visit to the New World. Given the sparse information to this possible fact, the cacao beans were probably overlooked midst the many other treasures found that trip.

In 1519, Hernando Cortez visited the court of Montezuma. According to historian William Hickling’s History of the Conquest of Mexico (1838), Montezuma drank no other beverage but chocolatl. The general ‘recipe’ for chocolatl was a paste of the cacao bean, flavored with spices and vanilla which was reduced to a thick froth which gradually dissolved in the mouth. The drink was served cold.

Cortez brought chocolate back to the royal court of Kind Charles V in 1529. The cacao beans were secretly processed in the monasteries and chocolate was kept a secret for almost one hundred years. Italian traveler, Antonio Carletti, discovered chocolate in 1606 and it began its journey into other parts of Europe.

The first chocolate house is said to have opened in London around 1657 by a Frenchman. Being expensive, it was considered a drink for the elite. A quote from sixteenth-century Spanish historian, Oviedo, stated, “None but the rich and noble could afford to drink chocolatl as it was literally drinking money.”

Chocolate was also considered of medicinal value. Cardinal Richelieu dosed his various illnesses with it.

By 1730, the price of chocolate had dropped from approximately three dollars a pound to a cost that made it accessible to classes other than the extremely wealthy. In 1828, the invention of the cocoa press cut prices further and improved the quality of the end product. The Industrial Revolution furthered the popularity of chocolate.

Americans were introduced to chocolate at Prince Albert’s Exposition in 1851. John Hanan brought cacao beans to Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1765. The first chocolate factory was established there. For many centuries, chocolate was considered only a beverage. Actually eating chocolate began in 1674 in the from of cakes and pastries. With the use of a steam engine for grinding cacao beans in 1795, Joseph Fry of Bristol, English, was able to manufacture chocolate on a large scale. In 1847, Fry & Sons sold “Chocolat Delicieux a Manger” which is believed to be the first chocolate bar for eating. Nestle states that from 1800 to the present, four factors contributed to chocolate’s coming of age as a food product:

1. Introduction of cocoa powder in 1828
2. Reduction of excise duties
3. Improvements in transportation facilities, from plantation to factory.
4. The invention of eating chocolate.

Naturally from the 1800’s on, chocolate has continued to change and grow. The quick candy bar you grab for a snack today is a lot different from what was available one hundred years ago. The next time you let a delicious piece of chocolate melt in your mouth, don’t feel guilty about the calories because you are experiencing history! With that fact firmly in place, take advantage of the availability of chocolate today and try the following hot chocolate recipe and gift your friends with a New Year’s treat.

Hot Chocolate Mix

11 cups of powdered dry milk
2 cups of powdered sugar
11 oz. powdered non-dairy creamer
2 lbs of instant chocolate drink mix
4 heaping tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa
1 small box of instant chocolate pudding mix
2 bags Mini marshmallows
6 quart-sized mason jars – or decide the size you want for gifting.

Blend the powdered milk in a food processor until finely ground.  Mix all ingredients except marshmallows. Layer 6 tbsp of mix followed by a good handful of marshmallows until the jar is full, ending with the mix. Makes 6 one quart jars of hot chocolate mix. Don’t forget to add a direction tag: To make a cup of delicious hot chocolate, add 3-4 tablespoons of mix to six ounces of hot water.

You can change the taste around with the addition of some cinnamon to the dry mix. It’s fun to include a stick of cinnamon bark to each jar, too, for a festive addition. Grinding up some vanilla bean into the dry mix can never go wrong.

Mexican Chocolate – Add to a Holiday Memory!

Mexican Chocolate Drink

3 cups whole milk
3 cups water
1 bar Mexican chocolate*
1 tablespoon cocoa
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whipped cream and twists of orange zest

Pour milk and water into a large pot. Over low heat, add remaining ingredients, stirring often to prevent sticking. Bring to a low boil. Transfer half into a blender and whip till foamy, about 10 seconds. Serve with whipped cream and fresh orange twists

For richer flavor, increase milk and decrease water to equal six cups.

*Mexican chocolate is found in the Mexican food aisle of the grocery store. Ibarra & Abuelita are two brands commonly found.

Thanksgiving Shortcuts in the Kitchen

Yes, we are in that month where we are thinking about guest lists, menus, and plans for  a holiday dinner. My ever-present notebook is always at hand but lots more scribbling going on in it at this time of the year.

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Here is one super-fast recipe that will make you look like a culinary expert in the kitchen!

For a nice breakfast snack with the first cup of coffee of the day, Monkey Bread is always a welcome addition. There are many, many recipe versions but this one is easy to get in the oven and baked within 30 minutes. Okay, 35 minutes if you decide to ice them, too.

Monkey Bread

3 cans of refrigerated biscuits (I like using the flaky type but any will do nicely.)
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (margarine would be okay, too)
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons water
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or vegetable oil spray a Bundt pan or any round cake pan with high sides. Place the chopped nuts evenly over the bottom of the baking pan.

Cut each biscuit into fourths. Kitchen scissors make fast work of this. Combine the granulated sugar and spices in a bowl. Roll each piece of biscuit in the mixture. Place in prepared baking pan.

In a small pot, melt the butter, brown sugar, water, and vanilla together. Bring to a boil and boil for about two minutes, stirring constantly. Pour over the biscuits in the baking pan. Bake for approximately 20-30 minutes. Biscuits should be golden. Cool for a few minutes and turn out onto a serving plate. Pour the glaze over the still warm treat and let it drip down the sides!

Fast glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Enough milk to form a glaze.

Thanksgiving Thinking . . . Snacking Oatmeal Cookies!

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November first shows up and you know it is countdown to Thanksgiving. I try and plan ahead but there are always last-minute panic attacks that disappear once the turkey exits the oven and friends and family are nothing but happy with the holiday food placed in front of them. The days leading up to the feasting day can be testy, however, My thought is making a big batch of something fun and sort of healthy to ward off unhappy ‘spirits’ as they get anxious for the real day and are tired of quick meals in order to make time for the big, Thursday meal in November.

My favorite go-to snack has always been oatmeal cookies! I have a multitude of recipes but this is one of my favorites. They go together easily and if things get really testy in the preceding days, I’ve found that sandwiching two  cookies around a small scoop of ice cream is a miraculous tonic.

Barbara’s Favorite Oatmeal Everything Cookies

Recipe:
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 Tablespoon (yes tablespoon) vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups oatmeal (quick cooking or old fashioned, not instant)
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Zest of one orange

The key is to soak the raisins or dried cranberries. This makes all the difference in the world. Beat eggs and vanilla together and then add the raisins or dried cranberries, stir. Soak for about an hour.

Directions:
Preheat to 350 degrees

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Stir the dry ingredients until well blended. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and mix well. Now add in the egg and raisin or cranberry mixture. Then add oatmeal and chocolate chips/nuts. zest and combine well. Form into balls on cookie sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheet for 2-5 minutes or until firm enough to transfer to wire rack.

Country Captain Chicken – Recipe Sharing Time!

Country Captain Chicken

2 chickens, cut into serving pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil or favorite vegetable oil
1 large, onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled, crushed, and chopped
3 teaspoons curry powder (mild or hotter, your choice)
16 ounces of diced tomatoes
½ cup golden raisins

Combine flour, cornstarch, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and black pepper in a plastic bag, A few pieces at a time, shake the chicken in the mixture to coat. Place the olive oil in a large frying pan (you will need one with a lid) and heat. Brown the chicken on all sides. Remove the chicken to a dish. Without wiping out the frying pan, add onion, green pepper, garlic, and curry powder to the frying pan. Cook on medium until the onion is softened and only just starting to brown. Add tomatoes, raisins, and browned chicken. Cover and simmer approximately one hour or until the chicken is fork tender.

Serve chicken over a bed of hot, buttered rice. Remember to spoon plenty of sauce over the chicken and rice before serving!

The first time that I made this dish, I ‘forgot’ to mention the raisins in the recipe so my family gobbled it all up without complaint. The raisins add a certain layer of flavor that works very well with the tomatoes and chicken. It is an easy meal to put together and very comforting and warm on a cold, rainy night . . . or so I heard as California has almost forgotten was ‘cold and rainy’ can be!

There are many versions of Country Captain Chicken and this one has evolved over the years in my kitchen. It is very adaptable to minor changes and always comes out tasty.

Gluten-Free Cupcakes

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Nothing I like better than an excuse to bake. On Sunday, our parish had an event that included a bakery table so it was my cue to get out the recipes and ingredients. I ended up with apple tarts, peanut butter/chocolate cupcakes, cranberry/carrot cupcakes, and chocolate/marshmallow cupcakes. They are all gluten-free offerings but no one could tell. Who says there is no life without wheat products?

Merry Christmas Cranberry Bread

Yes, I’m already working on things that need planning for Christmas. Sure, it is two months away BUT, It is ONLY two months away! I’ve been lining up my recipes and making sure to slowly accumulate the necessary supplies needed  for the holiday baking. This is a good recipe for a festive addition to breakfast or giving as a homemade gift.

Merry Christmas Cranberry Bread

2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup orange juice
1 well-beaten egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup diced green maraschino cherries
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in the shortening until it is roughly broken up into the dry ingredients. Blend together the orange juice, egg, and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and mix to moisten. Fold in the cranberries, cherries, and nuts. Bake in vegetable oil sprayed 9×5-inch bread pan for 45-60 minutes. Use a toothpick to test the middle of the loaf. If there is still wet dough, bake longer. Cool for 15 minutes and then remove from pan to finish cooling on a rack. A lemon glaze wouldn’t be frowned upon!

You can also bake the batter in cupcake tins for individual portions. Just remember to reduce the baking time.

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