Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hot Chocolate Bzz Bzz Bzz

Originally I bought the chocolate for a cocktail I thought I wanted to try. It looked tasty in the picture and sounded good. It tasted like pencil lead. I do not think I am a cocktail sort of girl. So here's all this lovely chocolate. It tastes pretty bad too, at 85% Cocoa content. ::cringe:: I am a milk chocolate lover, in spite of the much acclaimed health benefits of the darker delight. I tried a piece. I smacked it around in my mouth, relishing its silky melting texture on my tongue. And yet, by my expression, you'd never guess there was anything good about it. My nose wrinkled, my eyebrows knitted together in nothing other than sheer endurance. If I was a child with no concept of how healthy or how expensive it was, I'd have spat it out on the spot with an "Ew!".

Suffice it to say, that was the last time I was going to have it "raw". Now, don't get me wrong. I have worked to expand my taste buds beyond the HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) laden offerings of the mass market food industry. I have heard that people appreciate "bitter" notes in their food and I have taken that with a grain of salt, and given it a try myself.  But I just Cannot DO deeply darkly chocolate by itself. And thank goodness, You can't make me, either. :P

What I can do, however, is make something out of it. It started a few weeks ago with the first big snow. I had never made hot chocolate from a bar before, but I knew it had to be pretty good, better than just cocoa powder. Or even worse, cocoa Mix. Bleh! Since then, I have been tossing some variations about on the ingredients list, but it generally remains the same items. I have a tendency to add by the pinch or dash and what not until it tastes right. But, thankfully for you, I think I have narrowed down the measurements pretty close to what I find myself putting in most of the time. And so, I unleash onto the world:

LJ's Buzzin' Hot Chocolate
Serves 4

Approx 20 minutes

4 Cups Milk 2% or better (I use Horizon organic)

1/2 C Water

2/3 C Sugar

3.5oz Bar of 85% Dark Chocolate (such as Green & Black's Organic)

1/4 C + 2Tbs Cocoa Powder

1/2 tsp Kosher Salt

2 tsp freeze dried coffee

1 & 1/2 tsp Real vanilla extract
Whipped Cream
Mix water and sugar together in 2Qt pot. Get it good and hot (don't boil), stirring until sugar dissolves.
Smash or break chocolate bar into smaller pieces (whack it with a hammer before opening wrapper) and melt into the sugar water, whisking regularly to avoid scorching.
Once smooth, whisk in cocoa powder, salt and coffee.
Whisk until all lumps are gone. If having trouble, add about a 1/4 cup of the milk and whisk again.
Slowly add remaining milk, whisking all the while.
Turn heat to medium-low and cover pot with lid.
Allow to heat slowly, do not boil, whisk occasionally.
Once steamy, remove from heat and whisk in vanilla.
Pour into your favorite mug, add copious amounts of marshmallows and whipped cream and prepare for a lovely chocolate buzz.

We have gone waaaay out and had this with s'mores, which you may or may not want to do. This is what restaurant hot chocolate that you pay a buck fifty for should taste like, but you know they just use paper bag mixes because it all gathers in the bottom of the cup and the rest tastes like dish water. Should this resemble any other hot chocolate recipe, I can't help it because it's all a coincidence.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Slow Cooking Almost Like No Cooking

My bro kindly picked up a few things at the store for me a few days back. Whilst he was whittling away his time in the lengthy line (no doubt eyeing candy bars along the way), he spied a little booklet named for the style of cooking made infamously popular in the 70's by the company known as no other than "Crock Pot". I wonder if it ever occurred to any of the marketing execs that this brand name is dangerously close to "crack pot"?  As in: adjective- eccentric; impractical; fanatical: crackpot ideas. Well, it Was the 70's, they were getting away with a lot back then and I guess they thought nobody would notice.

Anyway. At first, when he brought it home I dismissed it as a bachelor's lazy attempt at making his living space smell better and feeding himself. But after Mom started flipping through it, she was reading the recipes off and they sounded really quite good and so I took a look. Lo and behold, they were not full of ingredients I had no way of getting without much trouble, in fact, I had most on hand as it was.

So I delved into what has to have been one of the easiest cooking experiences of my life, bar none. I made a roast pork loin with fruit medley served over basmati rice. Scrumptious! I am not fond of pork unless it is in the form of sausage or bacon, so for me to say 'Mm mm tasty' to it is quite rare. This was tender, and juicy and flavorful. The slices broke up a little bit and acted a touch like "pulled pork" but no biggie, it was good anyway. We just sat there going "mmmmm this is SO Good!" like every 30 seconds or so. I have to admit, I almost felt guilty at how good it was. It just seemed like it was something I had slaved over it to get it to taste so fabulous! But I didn't! And that is AWESOME!

This called for aside from the marinade of thyme, salt, sugar and bay leaf, basically apricots, prunes, green grapes, garlic, and red wine. The only thing I did differently than the recipe was marinate in the sugar and applejack water I had previously reconstituted the cranberries in, which infused the berry flavor as well. After browning the meat before placing it in the cooker, I also deglazed the pan with a shot more of red wine and then poured it in with the roast. Oh yeah, and I added carrots 'cause I had a bunch of em sitting around. None of that really added any work though, so it was still "easy peasy".  Next I'm going to make Beef Bourguignon in the cooker and it looks just as simple as this one was.

Funny how my bro hasn't touched the book since I've been cooking out of it. I get the feeling it will be left with me for Quite some time. MmHm.

Check it out! Bet you wish you had smell-o-vision!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Can you grill a turkey?

The answer is yes! Kinda, sorta, maybe. Or you can at least Use the grill in the process. This is what I thus embarked upon last night after my oven broke just as I had the bird all trussed up and no where to go. Yes, it was all prepared and stuffed to the gills, if birds had gills anyway, with aromatics and sage and a little bacon fat on the breast for good measure. Oiled and seasoned, brined and beautiful. What's a girl to do? Nobody had any idea. Except  the 95 year young little lady sitting demurely in her chair reading the local paper. "Well, haven't you a grill?", she queried. Lightning struck my very exhausted brain at that moment and I formulated my plan.

It's the dead of winter. And I do mean Dead. Everything is still crunchy with snow and ice and it has not been above freezing for weeks I think. How was I supposed to even Think of considering the grill, all tucked under it's not-so-cozy looking cover until next season? Well thankfully someone did or we'd have had raw bird and an unhappy cook on our hands!

I had forgotten that I often did pizza on the grill during the summer to keep the heat out of the house. I have this thing called a "hearth kit" which is somewhat like a glorified pizza stone, except a lot bigger, thicker and with sides that come off. It is meant for the house oven which I keep it there a lot of the time, but during the summer I put it on the grill and it acts like a lovely heat sink and will bake nearly anything with amazing accuracy as long as I account for the grill top being so much closer to the food and regulate the heat every so often. 

And so, with hopes high I trudged out into the bitter cold of the evening (because that's how long it took to figure out a solution) and fired up my trusty friend who seemed more than happy to oblige me with rows of dancing blue flames like some sort of miniature chorus line. And I have to admit I had my doubts, but it came off without a hitch. As the night grew colder I had to check on the bird about every 30 minutes to make sure the burners were high enough or not too intense to maintain the 325 degrees suggested by the bird's packaging.

And so, about 4 hours later Mr. Gobbler was ready and we feasted upon him (or her come to think of it), along with the usual turkey dinner fare. Might I add that since I didn't have an oven, I couldn't make "dressing" and I don't care to stuff turkeys because it dries them out often times. However, I have decided that "Stovetop" stuffing is perfectly acceptable when you add some sauteed carrots, onions, celery and dried cranberries which have been reconstituted in sugar water and Applejack. It doesn't replace scratch, to be sure, but it's nothing to sniff at when in a bind.

And so, dinner was saved, thanks to some 95 year old quick thinking and a very handy grill. I imagine you might be able to do much the same with just some brick or stone, but I'm not sure of the health implications so I can't exactly condone doing it that way for sure. But if you get a few pizza stones from the store you can likely whip something up.  And by the way, the turkey is delish and moist and wonderful even cold, I heartily endorse fowl brining to everyone. And sorry, no pictures, I was too tired to remember by the time it was all done.