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Hot Chocolate For Cold Winter Nights

December 16, 2010

It’s been that kind of week. Cold temperatures, biting wind, flurries … makes you just want to bundle up inside with your favorite blanket and a big cup of hot chocolate. Or at least it makes me want to do that, so that’s what I did last night. I was in dire need of a chocolate fix period, and since we’re all out of crackles, I found comfort and warmth, per the usual, in the bottom of a glass. Except this glass contained a recipe I can share!

Most of the really good hot chocolate recipes call for melting bars of chocolate in simmering milk. While that’s all fine and good, I only had unsweetened cocoa powder and I sure wasn’t going back out in the cold for anything. But, in perhaps the service journalism category, this is a great mix to pack into jars and give as a holiday gift — if you know anyone that loves dark, rich chocolate, they’ll love this. I’m sure it would be even better with high-quality cocoa powder and whole milk, but the Trader Joe’s brand did me proud. Also, in an effort to get the hot chocolate in my hands as soon as possible, I kind of forgot about taking pictures … but the chocolate is definitely better than the terrible pictures I took.

– 2 cups milk

– 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder*

– 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

– a pinch of salt

*Can also use Dutch-process cocoa for a less bitter taste.

1) In a small saucepan, heat up the milk. Add the cocoa powder, powdered sugar, cinnamon and salt.

2) Heat through, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is smooth. Strain to catch any chocolate clumps, then serve.

Note: You could vary this recipe in any number of ways, perhaps by changing cinnamon to other warm spices, such as clove, ginger or nutmeg (or fooling around with the amount of cinnamon), adding vanilla extract or simmering a scraped vanilla bean with the milk, simmering an orange peel with the milk, putting in a Kahlua, Bailey’s, bourbon, whiskey or rum for a more grown-up ho-cho. You could even steep a bag of chai tea in the milk, to create a hot chocolate chai.

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Mini Chocolate Crackles

December 12, 2010

Freshman dorms are the grandest social experiment of that awkward transition from adolescence to adulthood. Stick a bunch of awkward teens at random in a room (or thanks to NYU, a pretty decent apartment with our own kitchen and bathroom), and hope they don’t kill each other? It’s the ultimate Real World, minus the staged drama and fake jobs.

Instead of living with some of my good friends who went to NYU, I lived with three “strangers” my first year, hoping for it to be a “learning experience.” This here recipe is one fruit of such learnings, introduced to me by one of my suite-mates. Amelia made chocolate crackles for us around the holidays, saying that it was a Christmas tradition in her family. The cookies were cake-y, fudgy, perfectly chocolate-y, a much-needed treat as we trudged through our first set of finals.

These cookies are what I’d like to think are the grown-up version of Amelia’s chocolate crackles. They’re slightly bitter, from the unprocessed cocoa and limited sugar, a little lighter (think more cake, less fudge) and bite-sized. Because everything is better when it’s petite.

They’re also astoundingly easy to make, and especially nice if you’ve got little kitchen helpers in the form of young cousins, nieces and nephews or you know, kids, since their little fingers are prime for scooping and rolling and even mixing with their fingers. Also, don’t be like me and make these cookies a few days after getting a manicure.

Yield: 30 1/2-teaspoon-sized scoops

– 3/8 cup all-purpose flour

– 1/2 cup granulated sugar

– 3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*

– 1/4 teaspoon baking soda*

– 3/4 teaspoon baking powder

– 1/4 teaspoon salt

– 2 tablespoons butter

– 1 teaspoon brewed coffee, at room temperature

– 1 large egg, beaten slightly

– 2 tablespoons powdered sugar + more as needed

*Not to get too science-y, but the original recipe called for 1/4 of a cup of Dutch-processed cocoa powder, which is less acidic than regular unsweetened cocoa. I only had the regular stuff on hand, so I had to add baking soda to even out the acidity. (I also added more cocoa than called for, which is why I added extra baking powder as well, since cocoa is heavier than flour.) These measurements worked perfectly, so save yourself the math headache and use this version if you’re using regular cocoa.

1) Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and using your fingers, blend it with the dry ingredients. Add the coffee and egg to create a sticky dough. Freeze for at least 10 minutes, or until firm.

2) Pour the powdered sugar in a bowl and lightly dust your hands. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon amounts of dough onto your hands and roll into balls, then roll in the powdered sugar bowl. Arrange the balls on a greased baking sheet, a little more than an inch apart.

3) Bake at 400˚F for 5-7 minutes, until the cookies are just set. They will be slightly fudgy and cake-y inside. Allow them to cool before removing from the baking sheet — they tend to break when hot.

Basic Go-To Granola

December 9, 2010

Tis the season for gift-giving, especially in the form of baked goods. (Okay, maybe in the form of Kindles, but I’ll save that wish list for another day … yes, I have no shame.) But considering that the 25 days of Christmas and the 12 days of Christmas and the month of December have all become excuses to trot out the best and most delicious cookie recipes, there’s no doubt that this time can be a cruel month for those trying to limit their excess to only the 25th.

Enter this granola recipe. First of all, who doesn’t like granola? Swirled into some thick Greek yogurt with fresh berries, it’s the only breakfast I consider worth the 15 minutes of sacrificed sleep. But it’s great as a mid-morning snack, mid-afternoon snack, midnight snack, and when you make it yourself, you can control exactly what goes in it. Plus, packed in an airtight jar, it makes a wonderfully thoughtful gift for friends and family members who wish to end their year in a slightly more wholesome way. (I, on the other hand, accept all holiday cookies, and won’t turn down a chocolate bar or two either.)

The best part about granola is that it is not a hard-and-fast recipe by any means. I used a formula from Chocolate & Zucchini, but basically tossed in whatever I had in my pantry. Got a couple of cashews, a handful of almonds and a quarter-cup of chopped walnuts left over from Thanksgiving? Throw them in there! Don’t know what to do with that half bag of Craisins that you bought for stuffing? Granola. You could make this 100 times and never use the same ingredients twice, because there’s that much leeway to add what you want. But I’ve been mainlining this since I made it, so I have to say that the below “recipe” yields some pretty good stuff.

– 10 ounces oats (I used a “multigrain” mix of oats, barley, wheat and rye)

– 6 tablespoons maple syrup (you can also use honey or agave syrup)

– 1-1/2 cups mixed nuts (I used a blend of chopped walnuts and sliced almonds)

– 1-1/2 tablespoons cinnamon*

– 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg*

– 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

– 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

– 1/4 cup unsweetened dried coconut chips**

– 1 cup dried fruit (I used cranberries)

*These amounts added a very distinct cinnamon taste to the granola. If you’re cinnamon-averse (which I usually am, though I enjoy it here), start with 1 tablespoon. You can also add other warm spices like ground ginger, cardamom, allspice, ground cloves, etc.

**Truth time: I hate coconut, in all its various forms. But the chips didn’t add a coconut flavor, rather more of a nutty, toasted, slightly sweet flavor. I won’t be eating anything coconut any time soon, but the chips work here, for inexplicable reasons.

1) Mix all of the ingredients, except dried fruit and optional chocolate chips or chunks, in a large bowl until combined thoroughly.

2) Spread on a lightly greased rimmed baking sheet and bake at 300˚F for 10 minutes. (Clotilde recommends starting in a cold oven and allowing the granola to bake while the oven is preheating, since the granola doesn’t need to be immediately heated. I thought this was an excellent idea and promptly forgot to do it. Either way works.)

3) After 10 minutes, stir the granola, making sure to get the edges especially, and put it back in the oven for another 10. Continue to do this until the granola is browned to your liking. (I took mine out after 30.)

4) Allow the granola to cool completely on the baking sheet before adding in the dried fruit and chocolate, if using. Store in an airtight container.

Note: This recipe doesn’t yield “clumps” per se, which I prefer. But if you’re looking for bigger pieces, you might start with one tablespoon of oil and go from there.

Chocolat Moderne’s Joan Coukos Todd

December 6, 2010

There’s a moral to today’s story: always pay attention to what’s going on around you, even in the elevators. I know it’s customary in New York City elevators to pretend as though your fellow riders don’t exist, but one day, while riding the slowest conveyance ever created to my sixth floor office, when a friendly FedEx guy said, “Going up to the ninth floor today, hope she made me some chocolate,” I had to stop and say “what?” The guy went on to explain that on the ninth floor of my building, a woman makes and sells gourmet chocolate — “the sweetest office in the building,” the guy added, as if there was much competition.

Naturally, I had to check it out. So one day after work, I stopped in to say hello. Joan Coukos Todd, who runs Chocolat Moderne out of a huge loft in the building, answered, and showed me around before sending me home with a sample. The chocolate was complex, full of flavor, not overly sweet — even slightly bitter. It’s grown-up chocolate, for those days when a Reese’s cup just won’t do.

A few weeks later, Keith and his classmate Ben returned to create a video about Joan’s transition from banker to chocolatier. I swung by after work to take a few photos. Their video is above — it was their first effort using the video feature on a dSLR camera, and I have to say it came out pretty well!

The Only Chili Recipe You’ll Ever Need

December 3, 2010

It seems that winter is finally upon us, at least in New York City. This week I had to bust out the gloves, hat, scarf combo for the first time, and even dusted off my winter coat. In this colder clime, is there anything that warms the soul faster than spicy, smoky chili? (Short answer: no.)

Now for confession time: I don’t eat a lot of chili. I love the idea of it, but I’m so afraid. Most chilis are too salty, some are way too spicy and others are just all wrong. The idea of making it myself never occurred to me, and the few times that it did, I talked myself out of it. A lot of chili recipes I’ve seen require hours of simmering, which I just didn’t have time for. But my cousin and I decided we had to have chili for dinner last night, and I immediately picked this recipe from Martha Stewart. It took under an hour to make, for one. And it was touted as “lighter” for its use of ground sirloin, rather than the fattier chuck, which is always a plus. But this chili is light in name only. It’s everything you want on a cold night: meaty, full of beans and tomatoes, with plenty of flavor and a good kick. I fooled around with her recipe naturally, the main change being that I didn’t have chili powder on hand, so I improvised. Topped with a little sour cream and some cheese, it was perfect.

– 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

– 1 medium yellow onion, chopped

– 5 cloves garlic, chopped

– 1-1/2 jalapeños, seeded and diced

– 2 tablespoons tomato paste

– 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

– 3 teaspoons paprika

– 2 teaspoons cumin

– 1/2 teaspoon oregano

– 2 teaspoons garlic powder

– 1 pound ground sirloin (90% lean)

– 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

– 1 14.5-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

– 1 14.5-ounce black beans, rinsed and drained

– salt and pepper, to taste

1) Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook on medium-high heat until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes.

2) Stir in the tomato paste, cocoa powder, paprika, cumin, oregano and garlic powder. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beef, breaking up with the spoon, and brown slightly, about 5 minutes.

3) Add the beans and tomatoes, with their juice. Bring to a boil on high heat, and then reduce the heat to medium so that the chili simmers and thickens to your desired consistency. Serve with toppings of your choice — we went with sour cream, shredded cheese and a little whole wheat baguette.

Dulce de Leche

December 1, 2010

Confession time: I waste food. It’s one of my worst qualities and something I’m very ashamed to admit. I have no excuse, other than to plead with restaurants to please, please limit their portion sizes. But I do it at home too — make ridiculous amounts of something only to eat it for a few days and then grow tired of it and stop. Occasionally I’ll succeed at using something up (see: the neverending carton of buttermilk) but most of the time, it’s just horrifying, I know. One of my New Year’s resolutions will be to stop, as a part of a broad cut to my consumption of all things.

But until then, I can start by using up all of the random things I bought during my Thanksgiving baking spree. Almond slivers? Go nicely on top of greens dressed lightly with balsamic. Ginger thins? Perfect with my daily post-work cup of tea. Sweetened condensed milk? Okay, how about dulce de leche? This caramel is traditional in most of South America, something I learned ages ago in a middle-school Spanish class and had forgotten since. I’m a tad caramel-averse, you see (with this glaring exception — I could eat salted caramel all day). But most caramels I find to be too sweet, too sticky, too much.

I had no doubt that this caramel would be the same. In fact, that’s what it’s known for: its richness. But it seemed like the simplest way to use up the condensed milk (other than my dad’s suggestion, to just eat it straight from the can with a spoon [Yes, I tried it. Yes, it was decadent]).

The recipe, from the Carnation label, was laughably easy. All you need is a can (or some quantity) of sweetened condensed milk.

1) Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk into a metal bowl.

2) Place that metal bowl over a saucepan filled with boiling water (or use a double boiler), making sure that the bowl isn’t actually touching the water.

3) Heat the condensed milk on low until it thickens turns a light golden brown, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The sauce is everything a good dulce de leche should be: thick enough to spread, sweet with the unmistakable Christmas-ness of burnt sugar, rich, sticky. I’m not made to love it, thought it does make a nice topping for ice cream. If I’m particularly motivated this week, I may turn it into a filling for alfajores, traditional Peruvian Christmas cookies. But it at least used up the condensed milk. And if I spend the next two weeks eating ice cream topped with dulce de leche sauce — well at least it didn’t go to waste.

And So Begins the Cookie Season

November 29, 2010

Now that Thanksgiving is officially over (tear, tear) it’s time for Christmas cookies. I’ve been planning for this time since August, compiling recipes and “To Bake” lists on my computer, on my phone, in my planner, in my head … okay, maybe sometimes I get carried away.

I saw this recipe for chewy amaretti cookies at Smitten Kitchen and immediately thought “ooh, like macarons” and marzipan and had to make them immediately. But Deb said that her version, with a full cup of sugar, created very sweet cookies. Since I like my sweets with a cut of tangy fruit or some salt, I decided to cut the sugar to 1/3 of a cup. Silly me, I didn’t realize that in a recipe with four ingredients (four!), cutting one of the main ingredients by more than half would result in major structural changes. Her cookies formed perfect little circles. Mine formed blobs all over my baking sheet (which I stupidly forgot to grease, in an effort to undermine myself further. Don’t be like me — these cookies were extremely difficult to remove from the baking sheet).

But. Despite my multiple attempts to destroy these cookies, they were delicious. They were very chewy, very almond-y and not very sweet. If you’re okay with deformed-looking, less sweet cookies, follow the recipe below. But if you’d like yours sweeter and cuter, go with the full cup of sugar. Either way, they’re sure to be a hit.

Yield: 16 cookies, 2 inches in diameter

– 7 ounces pure almond paste (I used a tube of Odense)

– 1/3 cup sugar

– pinch of salt

– 2 large egg yolks, aged at room temperature for at least 30 minutes

1) With a fork, Break down the almond paste and mix with the sugar and salt.

2) Add the egg yolks and using an electric mixer, mix the dough until smooth.

3) Using a pastry bag or Ziploc bag with the corner nipped off, create 1-inch rounds about 1 inch apart on your greased baking sheet. If you’re using the extra sugar, this should theoretically work well. My cookies spread all over my sheet in a big mess, which I was only able to semi-salvage by reshaping them with a spoon. (The above photo is before I tried to fix them … )

4) Bake at 300˚F for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pans halfway. Wait until they are completely cool to remove them from the baking pan.

I am officially ready for more cookies, so if you’ve got a go-to recipe for the holidays, please send it my way!

Note: While I can’t recommend this 100% since I haven’t tried it, it might be okay to go with 3/4 of a cup of sugar without altering the structure of the cookie too much. If you try it, please let me know how it goes.