Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix

I’d like to introduce you to my new favorite hot chocolate mix.

I’ve made hot chocolate or hot cocoa mix for the past several years as part of the gift boxes I like to send to friends and family. When I started, I would make hot cocoa mix that included powdered milk. Then I switched to this hot chocolate mix. The past two years, I’ve made Decadent Hot Chocolate mix from Smitten Kitchen.

Both this and my previous favorite are mixes that you combine with hot milk. I had problems with my previous recipe not fully blending into the milk at times. The last time or two I made it, I felt that it was a little too sweet at times (like drinking a candy bar, although I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that’s nice from time to time). This recipe uses a little less mix per cup of hot chocolate, which helps remedy that.

This recipe is a dark hot chocolate mix, so if you prefer milk hot chocolate, I suggest you try using that instead of regular semisweet or dark chocolate bars or chips. You can experiment with adding less mix per cup of milk to make it less chocolatey (although I certainly won’t do that!). I generally use chocolate chips when I make hot chocolate mix, so I don’t have to chop up chocolate. I always make hot chocolate mix with a food processor, as it pulverizes the ingredients the most finely, which is important in ensuring the chocolate dissolves well in the hot milk. If you don’t have a food processor, you can try grating chocolate bars for this instead.

This chocolate mix is very giftable. One batch yields about 1 3/4 cups, or 9 servings, and is a great size gift for a couple or family. I’ve also heard that spoonfuls of this mix are an excellent addition to coffee, so be sure you give plenty to your friends and family.

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Peach Bellinis and Strawberry Bellinis

For my close friend Jen’s wedding shower last August, I made peach and strawberry bellinis in addition to classic mimosas. Preparing for the mimosa and bellini bar was fun. Jen and I tried out the sparkling wine in mimosas, verifying the correct OJ to champagne ratio, and  Alex and I got to try several different variants of bellini mixes at home. We did rigorous taste testing of 3 different strawberry bellini recipes. Below are the versions that we chose.

What happens when you decide your wine fridge needs to be prepared
What happens when you decide your wine fridge needs to be prepared

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My friend Kate had a vegan taco night at her house. There are a number of delicious vegan foods – like salsa or guacamole – that I could have made to take that night. Instead, I decided that it was the perfect time for me to make Horchata.

That’s right – horchata is dairy-free. Really. The beverage is basically a rice-almond milk.

refreshing Horchata
refreshing Horchata

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Milk Punch

Milk punch is something I’ve wanted to try for a few years now, but it was for this most recent New Year’s Eve that I finally decided to make it. I adapted it from the Smitten Kitchen recipe here. I decided I would try a half batch with bourbon, and a half batch with brandy. Continue reading Milk Punch

Cherry-Peach Sangria

Cooking Light had a series of recipes using cherries recently, and I couldn’t resist adding the recipes to my to-make list. I had some great peaches last week, so I decided I would buy more so that the first thing I made would be Cherry-Peach Sangria.

Recipe was simple to make. I dissolved granulated sugar in some brandy; the recipe didn’t say to heat it, but the sugar and brandy was easier to combine when I did. I added pitted sweet cherries and a bottle of Riesling, and chilled the mixture overnight. Right before serving, I added a sliced peach, a little seltzer water, and a few basil leaves; I’m not a fan of thyme with fruit so I left it out.

The sangria was pretty good. It was sweet but not too sweet. It was balanced and easy to drink. It was fruity but not overwhelmingly so. The cherries were a little alcoholic since they soaked in the brandy and wine, but they were definitely delicious. It was a refreshing drink (and snack) for the summer. This wouldn’t serve 8, as the recipe suggests, but it would provide a nice glass of wine and fruit for 4.

I really enjoyed this drink. It was delicious and not too sweet or heavy. I would make it again.

Gin Martinis and Gin Rickeys

Recently Alex and I have been watching more (relatively old) Good Eats recently, and one of the episodes recently extolled the virtues of classic cocktails. Since Alton Brown insisted on gin in his martinis, we decided to revisit the spirit.

I enjoyed an occasional gin and tonic in the past but at some point stopped liking them much; Alex believed he didn’t like gin. So, we decided to try a few gin drinks with some pretty good gin (we tried Beefeater) and see how we like them.

First we tried the Gin Martini that Alton Brown makes. His is simple. I was making it from memory, so I forgot that he stirs his martinis and thus shook mine instead. How to make: add ice to your shaker, and add 1 ounce of dry vermouth. Stir, and discard vermouth (keeping ice). Add 2.5 ounces gin. Stir, then pour into chilled martini glass.

I don’t like waste, and thus I thought about keeping the vermouth for the second martini; when I measured it, however, it had gained one half ounce of water. Definitely reason to pitch it.

As an alternative to Alton Brown’s minimalist martini, I decided to make the recipe that was on the back of the bottle of dry vermouth. Add ice to your shaker, and add 1 part vermouth to 2 parts gin (or vodka). Shake and pour into martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel (which I did not).

The good things about both of these cocktails: they’re simple to make, and they’re neither sweet nor heavy. You only need gin and vermouth to make them. I often find I’m limited to beer if I don’t want a sweet drink (and I consider anything made with soft drinks sweet), and I generally prefer darker beers. Martinis are not filling, not heavy and dark like beer can taste, and not sweet.

What I didn’t like about them: you’re really just drinking gin. This is especially true with Alton Brown’s martini. With the 2:1 gin-vermouth martini, you get much more vermouth flavor. It is more drinkable than Alton Brown’s; you can take bigger sips, but you get tired of it sooner.

My verdict? You really have to like love gin to drink martinis. Or olives, if you make dirty martinis. I don’t like olives.

Since we had the gin, though, I decided we should try other drinks. I had come across a Gin Rickey recipe the other day. They’re basically gin and tonics with club soda or seltzer water instead of tonic water. I knew Alex didn’t like tonic, and I think that’s what I’d come to dislike as well.

This recipe is likewise simple. Put ice in a shaker, and add 3 ounces gin and 2 tablespoons lime juice (a ratio of 3:1). Shake, then pour into 2 tall glasses with ice. Top with club soda (3-4 ounces per glass, no more than a half cup); squeeze a lime wedge over the top and add to the glass for extra lime flavor. The recipe is from Epicurious, but Alton Brown had insisted on using real limes in cocktails, so that’s what I went for.

Gin Rickey

Alex thought this was okay – it wasn’t his favorite thing – but I really enjoyed it. It was herbal and refreshing. You need to like lime to like this drink, since it’s simply flavored, but I would guess you could try lemon with it instead. This was flavorful without added sugar or sweetener. It was a drinkable, balanced drink; nothing was overwhelming. I will definitely make this again, particularly on a warm summer evening when you really want something refreshing.

Monster Hot Chocolate Mix

I had planned to make this Hot Chocolate Mix to send with my gift packages. I made a small batch to test, but I didn’t have the time to package it and send it out as gifts. It’s delicious, so it’s on my agenda for next year.

If it’s unseasonably warm where you are like it is where I am (it reached 70 in St. Louis today!), you probably won’t be in the mood for hot chocolate. But once it cools down again, as it always does in January, you’ll want this hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate Mix

Continue reading Monster Hot Chocolate Mix

Alton Brown’s Hot Cocoa Mix

Homemade hot chocolate, made from milk or rich cream, is nearly impossible to beat. Unfortunately, it takes a little time to make. I prefer hot cocoa mixes for sheer convenience.

I’ve been making my own cocoa mix for a few years. Packets of hot cocoa mix that you get in the grocery store are way too sweet for me now! I tried one about a month ago, and it’s never a good sign when you grimace while you’re trying to eat or drink something. It was so sweet and gross. Some hot cocoa mixes have weird (and not-so-weird) additives – corn syrup solids and the like. The same goes for powdered non-dairy creamer, which I also won’t use in hot cocoa mix.

I made a lot of hot cocoa and cocoa mixes during the past two years, but I keep returning to the same recipe, which I compare all mix recipes to. I want to add the caveat that I haven’t tried mixes made with actual chocolate – only cocoa powder. [I still have 7 canisters of cocoa left from when I ordered a case of 12 but ended up with 23 canisters of the stuff.]

The best hot cocoa mix recipe that I’ve found is still Alton Brown’s Hot Cocoa Mix recipe.

This mix is for a dark hot cocoa. It’s not particularly sweet. I like to think of it as an everyday hot cocoa mix; the Mocha Hot Cocoa I made last year is different (and not for everyone) with the addition of instant coffee, and other Hot Cocoa Mix is definitely much sweeter than this one. Alton Brown’s recipe is a solid, go-to recipe.

Alton Brown’s hot cocoa mix – you can see how full your mug will be with the measurements I give below

I make this with non-fat powdered milk, powdered sugar, cocoa powder (mine right now is a Dutch/regular blend), salt, and cornstarch. The cornstarch thickens things up a little bit, but not too much. I also blend this together to make it dissolve better. The recipe originally calls for a pinch of cayenne, but I found it overwhelming when I added it to the mix the first time I made it – I probably added too big of a pinch.

I have a bullet blender, so here’s the portions I use:

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
5/8 cup powdered milk (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons, if you prefer)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

Blend mixture together. Store with vanilla bean if desired. Use roughly 3 tablespoons mix per 8 ounces hot/boiling water.

I would say that this would probably yield 7 mugs of cocoa, but honestly, I forget to keep count. Alex and I combined can’t drink 7 mugs of cocoa in one sitting.

This cocoa thickens up a little after a minute or two, but it isn’t thick. If the flavor is too dark for you, you can add a few marshmallows to lighten it up. You could also add a little more sugar to your mug. It’s also nice if you put a little vanilla extract in it. I’ve slipped a vanilla bean in my container of it before and I think that it gives it a nice, rounder flavor. You could blend in some cinnamon, or add almond extract.

Even better: you can add a few chocolate chips to your mug when you add the cocoa mix to give the cocoa a richer, more velvety texture.

Trust me, though – it’s delicious without all those little additions too.

I’ve had good luck with using 3 tablespoons of mix for each 8 ounces of water, but if you don’t blend yours you’ll need to make adjustments, and stir extra well.

Frozen Mochaccino

Eating Well magazine has a coffee section this month. I like coffee, so of course I was a little excited about this. I made a Smoky Black Bean Soup which took coffee (and which I’ll post about in a little soon – but I’d like to note that I can only eat it for lunch, not dinner, because of the caffeine), and while I was brewing coffee for that on Tuesday evening, I decided to go ahead and brew some double-strength coffee to make a Frozen Mochaccino over the weekend when I could appreciate the caffeine during the day and not worry about staying up all night.

First, you brew double-strength coffee and freeze it in ice trays, at least 4 hours or overnight. [Or from Tuesday until Sunday, as I did – but I had mine covered so that the freezer wouldn’t smell like coffee. As a side note, ice cubes don’t last forever; they lose definition and stick together if they’re in contact, especially if they’re made from coffee or broth or anything that’s not just water. At least, that’s been my experience. I think the ice cubes (and anything else frozen) just leach moisture from each other; think about freezer burn, or a freezer that needs defrosting.]

Once your coffee is frozen and you’re ready to make your drink, you blend the coffee ice cubes with milk, cocoa powder, honey (or maple syrup, as they call for), and a tiny bit of vanilla. I tried to do this in the Magic Bullet, but honestly, the largest cup they had was just a tiny bit too small. Milk froths up when blended. So I made a bit of a mess.

While I’m talking about things you should and shouldn’t do, I’d also like to note that freezing coffee as ice cubes is definitely what you should do. Freezing coffee in a container and then trying to hack it apart so it will fit in your blender is a little messy, and time-consuming. So don’t make that mistake.

Frozen Mochaccino

This was pretty tasty. I make iced coffees with leftover coffee sometimes during the summer, but double-strength coffee is definitely tastes better. It also compliments the chocolate flavor. I used 2 tablespoons of honey in this, and it was just sweet enough. I thought it was coffee-y, chocolatey, and rich, but if you like things on the sweet side, you might want a little more sweetener in this. This was simple to make, and although it takes a little forethought since you make the coffee ice cubes in advance, it doesn’t take long to prepare. I’m sure I’ll make it again, probably for a warm, summer weekend afternoon.

332: Toffee Hot Chocolate

I decided to make Toffee Hot Chocolate. I halved the recipe since it was just for me and Alex. I used 1% milk instead of whole milk, so I decided to substitute milk for the water the recipe called for since I didn’t want it to be too thin. I used semisweet chocolate chips instead of bittersweet chocolate. I heated the milk and sugar until it boiled, then mixed in the chocolate and butterscotch chips. I poured into mugs and topped with a little (still frozen) Cool Whip and Heath toffee chips.

Toffee Hot Chocolate

This made very full mugs of hot chocolate. This was very good, but very sweet. This was probably in part because of the semisweet instead of bittersweet chocolate, but I think that it could have also done without the additional sugar added to the milk. The chocolate didn’t melt entirely in the hot milk before I poured it into mugs, and I’ve had trouble with that before. I think that it would be easier to divvy up the chocolate and butterscotch chips among the mugs, heat the milk and pour it over the chocolate chips, and stir everything together in the mug. I feel like it’s easier (and less messy) to stir faster in the mug to get the chocolate dissolved than to do it on the stovetop.

Overall, this was a delicious, different hot chocolate recipe. I’d make it again, but I’d omit the additional sugar, and I’d buy darker chocolate to use in it if I plan in advance to make it.