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.

Italian Pasta Salad – Recipe

I enjoy salads of all kinds. Even for events, like Thanksgiving, there have been times when I included a side dish of a new salad even though it didn’t traditionally fit into the menu. I’ve also noted that salads like the one following here, actually taste even better the next day so many vegetable treats are time-saving, do-ahead dishes.

Italian Pasta Salad

3 ripe Roma tomatoes, diced
1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 cup cooked, rinsed, and cooled pasta – shape is your choice!
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese
3 tablespoons your favorite Italian dressing
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Combine the tomatoes, chickpeas, celery, pasta and cheese in a serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until serving. Goes nicely with toasted rounds of sour dough bread brushed with melted butter and garlic.

Almost-Homemade Pumpkin Squares

Tis the season where the hours fly by even though you need every minute to last longer in order to get everything done. Although, I’m a ‘from scratch’ baker, I never turn down a recipe that turns out great, tastes very homemade yet limits my spare time in the kitchen.
Pumpkin Squares

1 Spice Cake Mix
3/4 Cup mayonnaise
1 16 ounce can pumpkin
3 Eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8oz. Package Cream Cheese (softened)
1/4 Cup Butter, (softened)
3 Cup Confectioners Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Mix all of the pumpkin bar ingredients in a bowl just until combined well. Pour in a greased 13×9 cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until toothpick comes out of the center clean. Cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, cream the cream cheese and the butter together in your mixer bowl until quite fluffy. Mix in the powdered sugar ½ cup. at a time until well blended. Add vanilla, orange zest, and mix well. Chill in refrigerator until the cake is completely cool, frost and serve.


Homemade Potato Soup

Homemade Potato Soup

A flavorful departure from the usual creamy potato soup. Goes well with crusty bread and a salad on a cold winter’s evening. Here’s hoping California actually gets some cold, rainy evenings this season!

8 strips of bacon cut into pieces
2 medium, brown onions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled and chopped
3 carrots, diced
3 cups potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon dried Thyme
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 quarts chicken broth, fresh or canned
2 Bay leaves
Fresh or dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large, heavy, covered soup pot, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon to a paper towel to drain. Drain off all but about 3 tablespoons of bacon drippings. Add onions, celery, carrots, Bay leaves, and Thyme. Stir to blend. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add raw potatoes, stir to coat, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Push the vegetables to one side of the pan, then stir in flour, one tablespoon at a time. When the flour is incorporated, mix with the vegetables. Add the bacon, cook for an additional five minutes. Add one quart of chicken stock and stir until smooth. Add the rest of the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until potatoes are soft. Add freshly chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Guava Jelly . . . Barbara’s Way

P1000929 P1000930 P1000929I love canning fruit and making jams and jellies. It is never a problem when one of my best friends says she has a bag of guavas and could I turn it into jelly. Fair is fair as she provides the sugar, fruit, and canning jars and I get all the fun! Guavas have a very pronounced scent so I usually cook down the fruit with apples and cranberries to add to the pectin in the jelly and give it a pretty color. I ended up with something like 25 jars. Of course, I had to taste test it and gave it a thumbs up . . . with all modesty, of course!

When my children were small, I first learned how to can fruit. We had gotten a bushel of apples and I decided to make chunky applesauce. The children were fascinated and kept coming through the kitchen  to see what was going to happen to all the apples. Finally, my jars were sterilized and the apple sauce was ready for spooning into them. I quickly put the lids on, gave them the required water bath and happily lined up my first dozen jars on the counter. By the time I got the last of the three dozen jars settled to cool down, I noticed the children had gotten very quiet and discovered them in the living room watching television . . . each with an open jar of still-warm apple sauce in hand. Naturally, they were also equipped with spoons. For once, they had worked together and made sure the two youngest had help getting their own jar open. Much as that was a shock and surprise, I found out they were on their second jar each. Eight jars down before I even had a chance to put them away in the cupboard for the proverbial rainy day!

Chocolate Mint Pots de Creme

Chocolate Mint Pots de Creme

1 cup semi-sweet, mint flavored chocolate chips
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
2 teaspoons peppermint liquor
3/4 cup Half and Half cream, scalded
1/8 teaspoon salt

Place the chocolate, sugar, egg, liquor, and salt in a blender and mix to combine. Add the hot Half and Half cream and blend until very smooth. Pour into very small dessert cups (this is very rich!) and chill overnight. Before serving, garnish with whipped cream and a pretty mint leaf.

Have time to add to the decadence? Make your own whipped cream!
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons sour cream

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whip until the cream stiffens and holds it’s shape. Don’t over mix or you end up with butter! You can either pipe it on your Pots de Creme or spoon it on decoratively. After the first spoonful, no one will be paying attention to how it looks anyway!

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.