Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hot Chocolate

Brrrrr!  It’s starting to get chilly outside, isn’t it?  Even here in California it’s pretty gray out. It’s the sort of weather that makes you want to don a sweater and drink something nice and warm.  How does a big cup of rich hot chocolate sound?

One of my all time favorite books is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  We were supposed to read it as a family when I was a kid, but once we started I was too hooked to wait for everyone to read a little bit together every night.  I secretly went into my mom’s room while she was a work and took the book.  I read it all in a day or two, which is impressive for a ten year old.  Since then I’ve read it several more times – It’s that awesome!

The book opens: “It was a dark and stormy night.”  A little bit of a cliché opening, but L’Engle handles it well.  She describes a chilly, blusterous storm and the main character, Meg, trying to bundle up in a quilt.  Meg and her little brother, Charles Wallace, go downstairs to brave the storm with a cup of hot cocoa. 

“You’d better check the milk,” Charles Wallace said to Meg now, his diction clearer and cleaner than that of most five-year-olds.  “You know you don’t like it when it gets a skin on top”*

“You put more than twice enough milk.” Meg peered into the saucepan.

Charles Wallace nodded serenely.  “I thought Mother might like some.”

“I might like some what?” a voice said, and there was their mother standing in the doorway.

“Cocoa,” Charles Wallace said.  “Would you like a liverwurst-and-cream cheese sandwich?  I’ll be happy to make you one.”

“’That would be lovely,” Mrs. Murry said (L’Engle 10).

(Being the English nerd that I am, I have to do a works cited or I will spontaneously combust.)

L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1962.

Nothing like hot chocolate on a blustery, cold night.  And my mom’s old recipe is just what you need to warm up.  

Hot Chocolate

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 -2 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
2-3 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt first 3 ingredients, stirring constantly, until it becomes a smooth syrup and starts boiling.  Add milk and vanilla.  Heat for 3-5 minutes more until smooth and hot. 
Serves 3-4
Melting the chocolate, water, and sugar into a dark syrup

All ingredients added

This hot chocolate is very chocolaty and rich, and the touch of vanilla makes it positively heavenly.  Cooking lesson number 1: when it comes to sweets, you can never have too much vanilla.  Alright, maybe you can, but it’s a rare occurrence.  I usually put in 1.5 x the amount of vanilla called for in the recipe.  Not this recipe, of course, because it already has that extra amount in it.  But seriously, don’t go skimpy on the vanilla.

Me and my favorite kitchen buddy, Vanilla

And this hot chocolate just isn’t complete without homemade whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla.

Begin whipping the cream on high speed and add sugar and vanilla slowly.  Continue whipping until stiff peaks form.  Don't over-whip, or it will lose it's smooth texture.  Whipping also works faster if you chill the bowl and beaters first.

Whipped cream at the stiff peaks stage.

*In reference to the “skin” that Charles Wallace mentions, it is what happens when you heat up milk too hot.  As it cools, you’ll notice a wrinkly skin on top of your milk, sort of like when reptiles shed their skin.  It looks really gross.  Don’t worry, though, your hot milk is not ruined if that happens.  Just skim it off the top and wash it down the sink, and the rest of your milk is perfectly fine.

Now the question is: What is a liverwurst sandwich?  Yeah, I didn’t know either, which is why I consulted good ol’ Wikipedia.

Apparently liverwurst comes from Germany and means “liver sausage.”  Mmm, doesn’t that sound yummy? (Note the sarcasm) It usually comes from pork.  It has all sorts of typical kitchen cupboard spices in it, such as thyme, allspice, black pepper, ground mustard, and even nutmeg.  There might be other stuff in it too, like mushrooms or bacon. 

Elise, a contributor to, writes about liverwurst sandwiches.  In an entertaining way, she acknowledges that yes, liverwurst sounds disgusting, but that it’s actually quite good.  She even revealed that there’s a good place to get it – Morant’s Old Fashioned Sausage Kingdom in Sacramento – which is right next door to me.  What do you think - should I try it? Or should we make Julie try it?

If you would like to try Elise’s liverwurst sandwich “recipe,” (it’s just slapping some liverwurst on some bread, basically) you can find it here.

If you want to find some liverwurst in your own area, you can try a special meats store or a local delicatessen. 

As for me, I think I’ll just stick with the hot chocolate.  

Sugar Cookies

I’ve just discovered a fascinating series by Joanne Fluke called the Hannah Swensen Mysteries.  It is a series of books about a character, Hannah Swensen, who owns a bakery, solves mysteries, and balances a tangled love life at the same time.  Each book also includes tons of recipes that are mentioned within the story.  This series caught my attention.  “What?!” I thought.  “A series that combines stories with food in such a convenient and fun way?  I have to post about it on the new food blog!”  I must confess that I’ve never read any of the 13 books in the series.  I have, however, skimmed one, called The Sugar Cookie Murder.  From what I have read, the author’s voice is very entertaining, the main character is interesting, and the plots seem to plug along nicely.  I can’t really recommend it, since I haven’t read much of it, but if you want to check out a good sampling, you can check it out here, on Google Books.  Let me know what you think if you check it out, or if you have already read the series.

However, my concern isn’t really with Fluke’s work, but rather the subject of that particular book: sugar cookies.  Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve never been very enthusiastic about sugar cookies.  When I was little, my mom would make the hard flat kind around Christmastime, and we would decorate them with colored, drippy frosting, poke holes in the tops with paper clips, and hang them on our tree.  They were lots of fun to make, but I didn’t really like eating them.  They were crunchy and lacked chocolate, which put them pretty low on my Favorite Desserts list.  But then my sister, Sarah, found an awesome recipe, and I loved it. This is not the recipe in Fluke’s book, but it makes the best homemade sugar cookies I’ve ever had. They’re soft and puffy and the frosting is so smooth and sweet.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
Makes 2 ½ dozen (30)
Bake at 350

1 cup sugar
½ cup shortening
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

Cream sugar and shortening and then add eggs, sour cream, and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Then add dry ingredients (flour, salt, soda, powder).  Let stand in refrigerator for 1 hour.  Add more flour when rolling out (soft and sticky is how is should be).  Roll out to ¼ inch.  Cut in shapes.  Bake at 350º for 10-12 minutes (10 for optimum softness).  These cookies should not get brown. 

Buttercream Frosting:
1 cube butter, softened (1/2 cup)
3 ¼ cup powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla
¼ cup milk

Beat butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla with hand-mixer.  Add milk and beat until smooth.  Add food coloring.

You can play with flavoring in these cookies if you’d like.  Almond extract will complement the flavors well, and you can add a little to the dough, the frosting, or both. If you are feeling adventurous, you can try some peppermint or orange flavoring, but almond is probably your best bet.

I flew all the way from California to Michigan to visit Sarah and her family this last week.  While I was there, we made Halloween sugar cookies.  She didn’t have any Halloween cookie cutters, so I free-handed some bats, ghosts, cats, pieces of candy, and skulls.  We used a cup to cut out simple circles for the rest.  The dough is very easy to work with as long as you have plenty of flour around to dust with when it gets sticky (and it will).  After the cookies were done baking, my nephew helped me frost them.  Because of that some looked a little less appetizing than others, but they all tasted great!