Category Archives: modern and contemporary

Recipe of the Week

Alegrías

Alegrías

In the Aztec diet, amaranth was second in importance only to corn. In festivals to honor the gods, toasted amaranth grain was mixed with maize, honey, and sometimes blood and shaped into idols of gods before being paraded through the streets, “sacrificed” into pieces, and distributed among the crowd to be eaten.

The conquistadors regarded this practice as a blasphemous parody of the Christian communion and outlawed its cultivation. Today these honeyed sweets, called tzoalli in Nahuatl by the ancient Aztecs, are known as alegrías, the Spanish word for happiness.

¼ cup amaranth seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon lime juice
pinch salt

Pop the amaranth. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Place a tablespoon of amaranth into the bottom of the dry pan, and cover with a lid. Turn off the heat and shake pot vigorously to keep the amaranth from sticking. After 20 seconds or so the amaranth should be popped. It’s ok if there are some un-popped grains. Pour the popped amaranth into a bowl. Repeat until all the amaranth is popped.

Mix the pumpkin seeds and raisins with the popped amaranth.

Place the honey in a saucepan. Heat over medium, mixing well, until a syrup forms. Mix in the lime juice and salt. Turn off heat.

Pour the amaranth mixture into the syrup and mix quickly so that the mixture absorbs the syrup. Pour onto a pan lined with parchment paper and press to flatten. Place another sheet of parchment over the amaranth and flatten to smooth the surface.

Let cool until firm and cut into rounds or rectangles.

Makes about 4 pieces

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Native to subtropical America, avocados have been cultivated in Mexico since antiquity; the fruit’s seeds that have been found in archaeological sites in modern day Puebla dating to 8000 BC. Avocado was part of the ancient daily diet along with maize, beans, and squash. The Nahuatl (Aztec language) word for the fruit is ahuacatl, meaning testicle, because of its shape. Naturally it was believed to have properties of virility.

Learn about the history of chocolate in Chocolate Unwrapped: From a Mesoamerican Drink to the Modern Bon Bon, on Life & Thyme.

1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large ripe avocados (8 ounces each), halved and pitted
1 cup 70% dark chocolate chips

cacao nibs for garnish

Combine water, sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and salt in small saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar and cocoa dissolve, about 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and cover to keep warm.

Scoop flesh of avocados into food processor bowl and process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. With processor running, slowly add warm cocoa mixture until completely incorporated and mixture is smooth and glossy. (This can also be done in a bowl using a fork and a whisk.)

Melt the chocolate. Place it in a wide shallow bowl and microwave. Heat on medium high for about 1 minute to start with. Remove and stir. Repeat, heating at 15-second intervals stirring in between, until melted and smooth. You can also melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Heat a small pot with several inches of water. Place the chocolate in a bowl and set over the pot, making sure the surface of the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir occasionally until completely melted.

Add the melted chocolate to the avocado mixture and process until well incorporated, about 1 minute. Evenly transfer pudding to 8 ramekins, cover, and refrigerate until chilled and set, at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Garnish with cacao nibs and serve.

Serves 8

Recipe of the Week

1950s-Style Cheese Log

1950s-Style Cheese Log

From the 1950s through the 1970s, cheese balls felt right at home sitting next to a dry martini.

For the cheese ball:
8 ounce cream cheese, softened
8 ounces finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons port wine, sherry, cognac, or whiskey
1 to 3 tablespoon room temperature butter, if needed

For the coating:
¾ cup combined chopped roasted nuts and chopped dried fruit of choice

For serving:
bell peppers, carrots, radishes, grapes, and Ritz crackers

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process or beat until light and fluffy in texture, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Add the grated cheddar cheese and process for 30 to 45 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl. It should be very smooth and completely combined. If it is not, process or mix another 30 seconds.

Add the garlic and the liquor of choice. Process until the mixture is completely smooth and the mixture is thick and fluffy – about one full minute or more. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl.

If the mixture has become runny (like salad dressing or yogurt), add 1 tablespoon room-temperature butter at a time and process or beat until completely incorporated, fully processing or beating between each addition.

Scoop the mixture into a mound. Place a large piece of plastic wrap about 12 by 16 inches on a work surface. Using a large spoon, transfer the mixture into a mound in the center of the plastic wrap.

Shape it into ball or log using plastic wrap. Lift up 2 opposite sides of the plastic wrap and cover the sides of the cheese mixture. Place your cupped hands against the plastic wrap, and gently press the mixture into a round. Lift up the remaining plastic, one piece at a time, and cover all sides of the cheese round. Shape it into a ball. Collect all the plastic pieces at the top and twist them together, creating a bundle that looks like a tied sack or pouch.

Wrap the plastic-wrapped cheese ball completely in aluminum foil and shape again with your hands. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 6 days.

Before serving, pour the coating into a rimmed baking sheet and spread into an even layer. Remove the cheese ball from the refrigerator, unwrap completely, and place on the topping. Gently roll to coat. Pat the sides and top well to ensure a full coating. (Wrapped in plastic and then foil – but without rolling in the topping, a cheese ball will keep for up to a week.)

Place the cheese ball on a serving tray or platter with a selection of vegetables, crackers, clusters of grapes. Set out small cheese knives or butter knives for spreading and serve.

Makes 1 4-inch cheese ball, serving 6 to 8
(adapted from Kitchn)

Baked Figs with Honey Creme Fraiche

Baked Figs with Honey Creme Fraiche

These amazing figs were prepared in my last Cookbook Club and were adapted from a recipe in Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food of 1950. 

“In a fireproof dish arrange some slightly under-ripe unpeeled figs. Put in a little water, sprinkle them with sugar and bake them (as for baked apples). Serve them cold, with cream.”

For the figs:
1 ½ pounds fresh figs, halved
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 tablespoon sugar

For the honey-crème fraiche:
8 ounces crème fraiche
1 tablespoon honey

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Put the figs, cut side up, in a baking dish. Divide the vanilla bean evenly among the figs.

Brush the tops of the figs with the melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until very soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

While the figs are baking, mix the crème fraiche and honey together.

To serve, place 2 to 3 figs in a bowl with a dollop of honey-crème fraiche.

Serves 4 to 6

image by Megan Griffith