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Grilled Pizza

grilled pizza Until a few years ago, I always preferred the pizza from my native state of New York to anything I found in California. The pizza in North County San Diego, where I grew up, was inedible as far as my family was concerned, so we always made our pizza at home. My mother’s pizzas were unparalleled by anything we could get at a local pizzeria — thick crust with a tangy tomato sauce laced with anchovies and black olives. When I moved to San Francisco years ago, I loved that I could finally buy a decent pizza. Right now, Oliveto, Pizzaiolo, and Dopo are my East Bay neighborhood favorites, with Pizzeria Delifina taking the gold medal for my all-around favorite local pie. Yet although these restaurants and many others offer wonderful Roma and Neopolitan-style pizzas, I still often make my own pies at home, especially now that I’ve discovered grilled pizza.

Yes, I am now grilling my pizzas. This may sound odd, but using your grill actually makes more sense than baking your pizza in an oven. Although people will disagree about toppings — sauce or fresh tomatoes? Anchovies or plain cheese? — it is universally known that you need a very hot oven to make a great crust. A home oven only reaches a max of 500 or, if you’re lucky, 550 degrees, while most grills get up to 600 degrees or hotter (mine gets up to 650 degrees). You’ll never replicate the intense radiant heat from a professional pizzeria oven at home, but using a barbecue grill will get you pretty close. Used with a pizza stone, your backyard grill becomes the perfect home pizza oven.

I also have a new dough recipe which is worth mentioning. I used to make my pizza dough the old fashioned way, kneading it by hand and then letting it rise in a bowl. But I recently tried a recipe from the New York Times Sunday Magazine and loved it. This recipe lets the paddle on your mixer do all the kneading, so it’s quick to make and pretty mess free. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can still knead the dough, but if you do have one, this recipe is so easy there’s no reason to ever buy pre-made dough again. Best of all, the final result is a moist pizza dough that crusts beautifully.

My new homemade pizza of choice is one made with wilted arugula, prosciutto, and Brie cheese. I love how the earthy and slightly peppery arugula tastes with the salty pork and oozy puddles of buttery cheese. It’s truly a match made in pizza heaven.


Why make your own pizza?

1. Homemade pizza is much less expensive than restaurant pizza, especially for a family of four. When I buy two pies at a local restaurant, I often spend over $40, but making two larger pizzas at home usually runs under $20 (and if I use only cheese, basil and tomatoes, I spend less than $10).

2. Making pizza is a great way to get your kids involved in the cooking process. My kids love to make and stretch dough, and slather toppings on their own pizzas. They take great pride in their finished pies and usually lick the plate clean.

3. Pizza night is just way more fun when everyone gets sticky dough on their hands.

pizza on the grill

Tips for baking a pizza on a grill:
1. Preheat the grill with the door closed at the highest possible setting.

2. Place the pizza stone on the grill before you turn on the heat or the stone will crack.

3. If you don’t have a peel, buy one. Pizza peels are a necessary investment if you don’t want to burn yourself.

4. Make sure your pizza peel is nicely floured before laying down the dough as you want the pizza to easily slide off. If the dough sticks to the peel, your toppings will fall onto the stone while your pizza stays on the peel. Before you try to slide the pizza onto your hot stone, give the peel a jiggle. If the pizza moves, you’re in good shape. If it seems stuck, carefully lift the edges of the dough and flick some flour underneath until you get some movement.

5. If you accidentally slide the pizza halfway off the stone, you can let it cook for a couple minutes and then the dough will be hard enough for you to pull it all back onto the stone without any permanent damage.

6. Your pizza will bake in 5-7 minutes on the grill, so be careful not to leave it on too long.

7. Always keep the grill closed when baking your pies

8. When checking for doneness, lift the pizza off the stone a bit to see if the bottom is getting too crisp. On a grill, the hot air doesn’t circulate but instead radiates upward so you can easily burn your crust if you’re not careful.

9. If using a gas grill, you may need to turn the heat down after cooking more than a couple of pizzas to avoid burning the dough.

Arugula, Prosciutto, and Brie Cheese Pizza

Arugula, Prosciutto, and Brie Cheese Pizza

Makes: 1 pizza

Ingredients:
1 pound pizza dough (half of the NY Times Magazine recipe) already risen and then refrigerated for at least a half hour
2 cups fresh arugula
2 olive cloves smashed and chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped prosciutto
6 oz Brie (about a half-wedge) cut into ½ slices

Preparation:
1. Heat your grill with your pizza stone inside. For gas grills, heat on high for about 10 minutes. For charcoal grills, heat coals until white hot

2. While grill is warming, heat a large pan on medium-high on your stove top. When pan is hot, add 2 Tbsp olive oil, garlic and arugula and mix. Turn off heat and cover for 3-5 minutes, or until arugula is wilted.

3. Flour a solid surface, such as a stone or wooden counter top or large cutting board, and shape your pizza. You can stretch the dough or use a rolling pin to shape it into a 12 to 14-inch round.

4. Place dough on a floured pizza peel and drizzle the dough with remaining olive oil. Evenly sprinkle the arugula and prosciutto on top and then add the Brie slices. Dust the top with a dash of sea salt.

5. Jiggle the dough on the pizza peel to make sure it’s mobile and then place on top of the now hot pizza stone. Cover your grill and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the bottom of the crust is crisp and the top is lightly browned.

6. Slice and serve.

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Homemade Focaccia

caramelized cipollini onion focaccia

The Bay Area is full of beautifully baked fresh bread. From small operations like Tartine and La Farine, to bakeries with larger distributions, freshly baked bread can be found in almost every neighborhood. Even Cotsco has an aisle selling fresh Acme bread. I cannot stress enough how lucky we are. When I was growing up in North County San Diego, crunchy fresh bread was an exotic treat, only obtainable when we traveled to New York or sometimes Los Angeles, but nowhere to be seen in the near vicinity of my house. Yet although a fresh loaf can be found within a five-minute walk from where I live now, I still like to occasionally bake my own bread.

Like most people, I love the smell of freshly-baked bread. I’m a smelly person. Not smelly, as in I smell bad (at least I hope not), but smelly, as in I am very olfactory-driven. This is both a blessing and a curse. While I am able to smell hints of lavender or citrus not always discernible to others, smells I hate – such as disinfectant or what it disinfects — seem to shoot through my nasal passages and into my brain (right below my right eye). So making bread is an act to not only feed my family and myself, but to nourish my nose as well. Homemade bread fills the house with the most wonderful lingering aroma, and as a bonus I also get to eat it.

One bread I enjoy making at home is focaccia. In addition to thinking it’s one of the easier breads to bake, I also love that it can accommodate a variety of toppings. Although it is most often baked with sea salt and rosemary, you can easily add thyme or sage instead, not to mention goat cheese, caramelized onions, olives, garlic, nuts, anchovies, and fresh tomatoes.

Focaccia is a traditional Italian bread; its recipe dates at least as far back as ancient Rome, when it was called panis focacius. Like pizza, it is made from a simple yeast dough that is often cooked with olive oil. The dough is pretty straightforward and easy to make. Best of all, making focaccia at home will fill your kitchen with warm and comforting smells, which is something you can’t buy at Costco.

Following is my recipe for caramelized cipollini onion focaccia. The onions add a sweet flavor that plays off the salt nicely. Feel free to use chopped kalamata olives instead, add goat cheese, or just use herbs and salt. Whatever you do, your house will smell delicious.

Caramelized Cipollini Onion Focaccia
Makes: one loaf
Ingredients:
2 packages of active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tsp sugar
4-5 cups of flour
1 ½ tsp sea salt
5 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, or sage
1 cup carmelized cipollini onions

Preparation by Hand:
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let sit for five minutes or until the mixture becomes foamy.
2. Stir 4 cups of flour, 1 ½ tsp salt, and 3 Tbsp olive oil into the yeast mixture and then stir thoroughly until you can make a rough ball. You will probably need to use your hands.
3. Sprinkle flour onto a work surface (either a solid countertop or large wooden board) and turn the dough out onto the floured surface.
4. Knead the dough for at least five minutes, adding the last cup of flour as needed to prevent the dough from getting too sticky. You may not need the full cup. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth.
5. Set dough in large bowl coated with olive oil. Cover with a dish towel and set in a warm draft-free spot for at least an hour or until the dough doubles in size.
6. After dough has risen, coat the bottom of a large cookie sheet with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil.
7. Turn the dough onto the oiled cookie sheet and press down so it fits into the pan. If the dough does not stretch, let it rest another five or 10 minutes covered with the dish towel.
8. Press your fingers into the dough to dimple it. This will help the dough bake evenly and prevent it from inflating too much when baking.
9. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for another hour.
10. Sprinkle the course salt, herbs, and onions onto dough.
11. Set dough in a preheated 450 degree oven.
12. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.Note: Be sure to check the bread after about 10 minutes if using a convection oven.

Preparation with a Stand Mixer Using the Bread Dough Attachment:
1. In your mixer’s bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let sit for five minutes or until the mixture becomes foamy.
2. Add 4 cups of flour, 1 ½ tsp salt, and 3 Tbsp olive oil into the yeast mixture. Using the bread dough attachment, mix until a rough ball forms.
3. Sprinkle flour onto a work surface (either a solid countertop or large wooden board) and turn the dough out onto the floured surface.
4. Knead the dough for at least five minutes, adding the last cup of flour as needed to prevent the dough from getting too sticky. You may not need the full cup. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth.
5. Set dough in large bowl coated with olive oil. Cover with a dish towel and set in a warm draft-free spot for at least an hour or until the dough doubles in size.
6. After dough has risen, coat the bottom of a large cookie sheet with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil.
7. Turn the dough onto the oiled cookie sheet and press down so it fits into the pan. If the dough does not stretch, let it rest another five or 10 minutes covered with the dish towel.
8. Press your fingers into the dough to dimple it. This will help the dough bake evenly and prevent it from inflating too much when baking.
9. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for another hour.
10. Sprinkle the course salt, herbs, and onions onto dough.
11. Set dough in a preheated 450 degree oven.
12. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Note: Be sure to check the bread after about 10 minutes if using a convection oven.

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Bragiole for Saint Paddy’s Day

bragiole

While others were drinking green beer, making lamb stew, or boiling the pervasive corned beef and cabbage this week, I ignored all things Irish. My family was never one to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. As Italian Catholics, St. Patrick’s Day was a minor religious holiday in my childhood house, and my proud Italian father couldn’t comprehend how the nation turned it into a festive drinking day celebrating the Irish. This was particularly telling as he was never one to turn down a pint of beer, celebratory or not.

Half the time I forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. Not surprising from the girl who brought meatball sandwiches for lunch, but a drag nonetheless as this meant I got pinched all day (a tradition, I am happy to say, that has been abandoned, at least at my daughters’ elementary school). My family just didn’t celebrate the day. We ate a normal dinner — something like pasta with broccoli rabe followed by stuffed peppers. No corned beef for us. My mom just didn’t cook Irish.

Ironically, my dad died on St. Patrick’s Day two years ago. And then the day before the holiday this week, my maternal grandmother passed away. Now, what the nation celebrates as an excuse to drink beer and “get their Irish on” has become a time of reflection for me.

My father and grandmother were different in many ways, but one thing they could always agree on was food. Both were lifelong advocates of the southern Italian table. While my father never lifted a finger in the kitchen (he was a Sicilian male of the old school), he could correctly identify the vast range of regional dishes prepared, including what ingredients were used, and if they were fresh or not. My grandmother, on the other hand, was the quintessential Italian cook. Each day she prepared a Neopolitan dish that had been passed down from generation to generation. She got up around 4:00 a.m. each day, made a pot of coffee, and started cooking. Unfortunately, we were separated by 3,000 miles for most of my life (she in Long Island and me in California), so I didn’t get to hang out with her in the kitchen as much as I would have liked. I have very fond memories of when we were together, however: her busy at the stove, talking with a New York accent sprinkled with Italian, and making the most heavenly dishes.

It was hard to get a recipe out of my grandmother. She was completely disconnected from the idea that food is often made using a list of ingredients with directions. Instead of actual recipes, I would receive a list of instructions that were more subjective than definite. She loved to write recipes (or at least her version of what a recipe is) down on note cards, which were full of comments like “add some milk” or “pinch the dough until it’s right.” It would drive me nuts when I would ask “how much milk?” and she responded “enough,” as if that said it all. But when I was in the midst of making a dish, I found that “enough” was often a better direction than an exact measurement. She and my mom (who hands down recipes just like her mother) taught me to trust my instincts in the kitchen and that the look and feel of a mixture is what’s important. My grandmother’s recipes helped me learn more about technique, color, feel, and texture than any cookbook ever could.

So in honor of my father and grandmother, I made Italian gravy this week. I still can’t tell you how my family makes this dish, although I will tell you how I made the bragiole.

Bragiole

Makes: 6 bragiole

Ingredients:
6 pieces of thinly cut beef (either 1/4-inch bottom round slices or flank steak work well)
2 hard-boiled eggs chopped
Minced parsley and garlic (enough to sprinkle on the meat)
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Preparation:
1. Tenderize the meat so the pieces are nice and thin.
2. Season each piece with salt and pepper and then top with the egg and parsley.
3. Add a little garlic to each piece (not too much, but enough to flavor) and top with some freshly grated cheese.
4. Roll each piece of meat up and place a toothpick in each one so it stays closed.
5. Brown in olive oil and then cook in your gravy.
6. Simmer for at least an hour and serve.

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Confessions of a Girls Scout Cookie Hater

girl-scout-cookies-in-the-trash1
It’s Spring, which means it’s Girl Scout cookie season. Little Girl Scouts and Brownies everywhere are marching door to door selling boxes of Americana. If you live a few flights up or don’t have any Girl Scouts in your neighborhood, you may have escaped the door-to-door sales period, but I would be surprised if you haven’t encountered little green- or brown-vested girls somewhere else. Rosy-cheeked and armed with multi-hued boxes, they sit at card tables in front of your local hardware or grocery store, at parks, or near the door of your morning coffee spot ready to sell Thin Mints and Do-Si-Dos. You may even work with people who push cookies for their daughters at the office. The Girl Scouts and Brownies are everywhere this time of year, and many of us can’t dodge buying a box or two (or ten). I mean, who can turn down a cute little 8-year old girl selling cookies to pay for the big end-of-year campout?

So each year I find myself with boxes of Samoas, Lemon Chalet Cremes, and Tagalongs, to go with the ever popular Thin Mints and Do-Si-Dos. But here’s the problem: I hate Girl Scout cookies.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate the Girls Scouts of America. Unlike the Boy Scouts, with their appalling homophobia issues, the Girl Scouts are quite likable. The organization works to empower girls of all ages, which I think is great. My daughters were Brownies for a couple of years, and if the meeting time hadn’t interfered with piano lessons, they would still be in their old troop hawking their own boxes of cookies.

My dislike of Girl Scout cookies has nothing to do with the Girl Scout organization itself and everything to do with the actual cookies. They’re just not very good. Actually, they’re awful. Whenever I see people look genuinely excited to get their boxes, I am confused. The chocolate in the Thin Mints and Samoas is waxy, while the Samoas themselves are so overtly sweet they make me nauseous. Trefoils are sort of like shortbread, but without the great buttery taste, so why bother? The Do-Si-Dos, which are peanut butter cookies, are probably the best of the bunch, but even they’re a poor facsimile of what a real peanut butter cookie should taste like. And don’t even get me started about the partially hydrogenated oils in every box.

I have kept my feelings about Girl Scout cookies bottled up for years as detesting them seems tantamount to hating grandma and apple pie. But I need to be brave and stop living a lie. So I am shouting it from the rooftops (or rather my computer). I hate Girl Scout cookies! There is nothing tasty about them and I’m tired of pretending Thin Mints are a treat. If this organization is going to bombard us with cute kids selling plastic-wrapped confections, can’t the cookies at least taste good?

Maybe they really aren’t all that bad and I’m just turning into a crabby old lady. The next thing you know I’ll be screaming at the kids to get off my lawn. Okay, it felt good to get that off my chest. That said, I’m sure I’ll be buying more boxes next year.

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I Heart Pea Shoots

shoots-opener

Sure, I love chocolate truffles and Valentine’s Day goodies, but February has another sweet treat: pea shoots. If you haven’t tried these lovely greens before, you’re in luck because they’re all over the farmer’s market right now. And, at $1 or $2 a bag, you can feel the love.

Pea shoots are simply the leaves of the pea plant. But that description doesn’t do them justice. The leaves are bright green and succulent, with accompanying tendrils that curl up like wavy Mohawks and have a subtle sugary flavor that is delicious both raw and cooked. Like peas, pea shoots have a sweet crispness that goes beautifully with just about anything. They have a pleasant sweet pea flavor that works well on its own, or as an accent with meats, pastas, or beans. Some things I like to do with pea shoots are:

  • · Use as greens in a salad
  • · Incorporate into omelets or frittatas
  • · Include in soups as you would spinach or chard
  • · Stuff inside chicken breasts or flank steak with lemon zest and garlic
  • · Mix with pastas

On Saturday, I was so excited pea shoots were in season, I bought two batches at the farmer’s market. The first night, I made pasta with pea shoots and crumbled bacon, and then the next night we had a pea shoot salad with cured chorizo, Marcona almonds, couscous, and lentils. The saltiness of both the bacon and chorizo nicely accented the natural sweet flavor of the pea shoots, as did the Marcona almonds and Parmesan.

When cooking pea shoots, be sure not to oversteam them as they’ll lose some of their flavor and texture if they’re cooked too long. I like to toss them into a very hot pan with a little olive oil so they crisp up a bit before they cook down. If eating raw, make sure you thoroughly trim off the woody ends, and then dress as a salad green. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Below are the recipes for the dishes I made this week with my pea shoots. Both are easy and relatively fast to make. If you’re looking for further inspiration, I found a site called <a href=”http://www.peashoots.com/”&gt;pea shoots.com</a>, which has a number of eye-catching recipes that made my mouth water. I haven’t had time to cook any yet, but am especially looking forward to trying the pea shoot and smoked bacon soup (yes, I know, again with the bacon); although the pea shoot bubble and squeak also looks enticing.

So if you’re looking for a unique Valentine’s gift for your sweetheart, how about a bouquet of pea shoots?

salad-for-bab

Pea Shoot Salad with Chorizo, Almonds, Lentils, and Couscous

Makes 2 large or 4 small salads

Salad

Ingredients:

1 large bunch of pea shoots (washed with ends trimmed)

1/2 cup cooked lentils, white beans, or fava beans

1/3 cup roughly-chopped fennel

1/3 cup cured chorizo or soppresetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/3 cup Spanish Marcona almonds

1/3 cup cooked couscous

1 Tbsp chopped parsley

1 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


Dressing

Ingredients:

Juice from one medium Meyer lemon or 1 1/2 Eureka lemons

Zest from one lemon

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


Preparation:

1. Chop pea sprouts into 1-inch pieces, discarding large tough stems, and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a medium sauté pan and then add the chopped fennel.

3. After the fennel begins to soften, add the beans and parsley and then toss together, adding salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. Lay pea shoots onto plates and then evenly scatter beans, couscous, chorizo or soppresetta, and almonds onto each plate.

5. Drizzle dressing on top of each plate and serve.

pasta-for-bab

Pea Shoot Pasta Sautéed with Bacon and Lemon Zest

Makes 4 – 6 servings

Ingredients:

1 bunch of pea shoots, cleaned, dried and cut into 3-inch long pieces

2 cloves garlic

1 lb cooked pasta

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp lemon zest

1 ladle of hot pasta water

2 -3 slices cooked bacon or 1/4 cup cooked cubed pancetta

Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste


Preparation:

1. Clean and dry your pea shoots and remove any hard stems. Cut shoots into 3-inch pieces.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or wok until oil starts to sizzle.

3. Smash and then chop garlic into medium pieces and add to the olive oil.

4. Add pea shoots and lemon zest and sauté for about 3-5 minutes, or until pea shoots start to wilt.

5. Stir in cooked pasta and pasta water.

6. Crumble bacon and add to the pasta.

7. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top along with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

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Kriek

kriek-with-bottles_bab

I love cherries and I’m also quite keen on beer, so you would think that I would have jumped at the chance to try a Belgian cherry beer on tap when offered one; yet I at first refused. Although I adore cherries — they may just be my favorite fruit — I abhor fake cherry flavoring. This is why I am unable to take cough medicine or drink cherry soda. It just tastes fake and wrong to me. So last year, while visiting the lovely city of Haarlem in the Netherlands, I had to be convinced to try the cherry beer that is a staple at most pubs in the fall. I am so glad I relented.

Kriek (pronounced like “creek”) is a fruit beer made from lambic, a sour and dry Belgian beer, which has been infused with sour cherries and their pits. According to the bartender I chatted with in Haarlem, the pits are where the real cherry flavor lies. Lambic is only brewed in Belgium. It is unique in that brewers don’t add any yeast as an ingredient. Fermentation instead occurs through exposure to yeast strains and bacteria native to the area of Pajottenland (is it me, or does that sound like a name thought up by Dr. Seuss?). The marriage of lambic with sour cherries is really a regional match made in heaven.

After sipping my friend Corbin’s kriek, I was hooked. My first response was literally “Wow!” The cherry flavor was tart and sweet, but understated and not syrupy, and the texture of the brew was perfect. Although we had just had a big meal, I drank two and a half pints. I realized this was my one and only chance to have this stuff on tap (well, until my next visit to Northern Europe, whenever that may be) and I wanted to make the most of it.

The next morning, before I flew to London, I dashed to the local liquor store and bought a few bottles of kriek to share with my husband, who was stuck at home with the kids while I gallivanted throughout Europe with my oldest friend. It was the least I could do — really. I knew he would love it, and wasn’t sure I could find the stuff at home.

But a few months after returning home, I saw it on the menu at Luka’s Taproom in Oakland. And, although it wasn’t as fresh and earthy as the lovely brew on tap in Haarlem, it was close enough to make me quite happy. Our waitress told us she had seen it at Whole Foods, so I journeyed over there a few days later and bought some, along with a bottle or two of framboise, kriek’s raspberry cousin which is equally intriguing.

The most common brand sold in the United States is Lindeman’s, which comes in both 750 ml and 8 oz bottles, and is sold at both Luka’s Taproom and Whole Foods. But if you’re interested in trying a few other varieties, The Trappist in Oakland has a number of different brands by the bottle and actually sometimes even has kriek on tap (at least their web site says they do). I tried a bottle there recently. Unfortunately I can’t remember the brand, but it was less sweet than the Lindeman’s and quite good.

Although Luka’s refers to kriek as a dessert beer, I think the designation is too limiting. Since finding that I can get it here, I’ve tried it with numerous dishes. Kriek is a fantastic accompaniment to roasted pork, spinach salad, and baked chicken. It’s also nice with a plate of cheese — the stinkier the better.

So if you come across some kriek, I highly recommend it. Better yet, if you find yourself in Belgium or The Netherlands in the fall, try a pint on tap. You won’t regret it.

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Hot Chocolate with Homemade Marshmallow Whip

hot-chocolate_bab

On a cold day, a cup of hot chocolate is about as good as it gets — well, as far as food and beverages go. More often than not, people get their hot chocolate fix from Starbucks or another coffee shop, spending about $3.00 a cup. For a family of four, this can add up — especially if your kids are prone to dropping their to-go cups inches from the front door of the cafe, as mine are. The other problem with buying cups of hot chocolate is that the paper cups and plastic lids sabotage any attempt to really enjoy the full flavor and aroma of the drink. Worst of all, you either need to drink your tasty beverage on the go, or get it back home in the cold, only to find it’s lukewarm when you finally sit down to drink it. No. I have a primal need to warm up on a cold day with a steaming cup of hot chocolate — in a real cup, in my favorite chair — and so I need to make it at home.

When I was in college, I was misinformed and poor, so we used Swiss Miss packets of cocoa. After dumping each pack in a cup of microwave warmed water, we would all settle down for what we hoped would be a delicious treat (which often included Peppermint Schnapps). I didn’t realize at the time that I was a foodie, but I did know one thing: those cups of cocoa were awful. If it weren’t for the Schnapps, I would have passed on the whole affair.

It was only when I was an adult that I started to make real hot chocolate. I learned that there is a difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate, and experimented with different cocoa powders and bittersweet bars, enjoying the results from both, but preferring hot chocolate. In case you’re curious, hot cocoa is made using cocoa powder, sugar, and milk, while hot chocolate is made with melted chocolate, sugar, and milk. For me, there’s just something about drizzling hot bittersweet chocolate into warmed milk that really satisfies both my hot beverage and chocolate cravings.

For years I topped my hot chocolate with either warm milk foam or whipped cream, which at the time seemed perfect. But, a few weeks ago, my mother created the ultimate topping for our steaming chocolate beverages: homemade marshmallow whip. She initially made a batch All-Around Frosting from Cooks.com to frost my daughters’ gingerbread house, but we soon realized that this lovely confection had a far greater purpose in our lives.

Although the recipe is supposedly for frosting, the ingredients are everything you would need to make marshmallows, minus the gelatin, and the result is the lightest marshmallow whip you could ever hope for. My only recommendation is to half the recipe if you don’t want a ton of it.

One of the things I love about using the homemade marshmallow whip is that it has a luscious creamy texture that melts beautifully into your hot chocolate. It is also rich and full enough to add body to your drink if you want to use low-fat or nonfat milk. And, you can always frost a cake or stick a gingerbread house together with it if afterward.

So the next time you crave a cup of hot chocolate, go for a version that doesn’t come in a paper cup and isn’t made from a packet. Adding Schnapps, however, is completely up to you.

Hot Chocolate

Ingredients

Makes 2 servings

  • 2 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preparation

1. Chop chocolate into small pieces.

2. Heat milk in a sauce pan on medium-low heat, being sure not to let it boil over.

3. There are two ways to melt the chocolate:

A. Place the chocolate pieces in a metal bowl that will fit securely over your sauce pan. Reduce the heat for the milk to a low simmer and then place the bowl on top of the pan. Stir until the chocolate is melted.

B. Place chocolate pieces in a microwavable bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir chocolate to help distribute the heat. If chocolate has not thoroughly melted, heat for another 20 seconds and repeat until chocolate is melted through.

4. Add chocolate to the heated milk along with the sugar and vanilla extract and stir thoroughly to incorporate everything together. I like to use a whisk, which creates some froth.

5. Serve.

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