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Nitrite/nitrate-free ham, sauteed collard greens, balsamic/garlic-braised Brussels sprouts/beets with pine nuts
Balsamic/garlic-braised Brussels sprouts/beets with pine nuts and shrimp
The second winter hubby and I were married, he started requesting hot chocolate each evening for something warm and sweet after dinner. We lived in Las Vegas at the time, which, contrary to its (accurate) summer reputation as the armpit of hell, certainly gets chilly and windy in the wintertime. It’s a dry cold. We even received a dusting of snow when the stars aligned one January afternoon.
Those of you in truly frigid places? Yeah, hi. I can hear your eyes rolling from here.
Anyway, we had some leftover packaged hot cocoa mix that had been loitering unloved in our pantry for months. Hubby helped himself to those packets until they ran out, which led to my trying hot chocolate made from scratch. For a couple weeks, each batch was a new experiment. I was a budding health nut with a recently-developed adult palate, so the effort was worth never again resorting to sort-of-chocolate-flavored hot water.
The recipe was eventually perfected, and this seasonal habit lasted two years before we were both hot-chocolated out. Now it’s an occasional winter treat, and a good one if you’re avoiding gluten/grains, refined sugar, and dairy if you skip the whipped cream. My original recipe called for whole cow’s milk and maple syrup. But I have come to prefer canned coconut milk because it is thicker, more satisfying, easier on digestion (if you use homemade or a brand without dodgy “gums”) and blood sugar, and is inherently sweet.
This recipe as written is healthy enough to drink with breakfast, preferably a protein-rich breakfast like eggs. Obviously, it’s sweet enough for after dinner too, or after lunch, or after you shower or check your email. If you have a “real” winter, meaning you don’t live in Southern California where I am (or Southern Nevada, for that matter), I’m sure this would be a comforting antidote to the dark days of snow, ice, and rain.
I had the chance to serve this to friends for the first time recently. One is dairy-intolerant, thus probably accustomed to alternative dessert foods, and absolutely loved the decadence of this recipe. The other two friends couldn’t even make it through their cups, commenting on how rich and thick it was. This is not a sissy hot chocolate.
Basic Homemade Hot Chocolate (serves 2)
1/4 C coconut sugar
3 Tbsp cocoa or cacao powder
pinch of salt
3-4 Tbsp filtered water
one 13.5-oz. can coconut milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C heavy cream
1 Tbsp coconut sugar
splash of vanilla extract
In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk the coconut sugar, cocoa, salt, and water together until blended. Bring to a simmer. Whisk in the coconut milk and bring to just below a simmer, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, whip the cream with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. I usually whip small batches like this with one beater in a 2-cup Pyrex glass measuring cup.
Remove the hot cocoa from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into a beautiful, colorful mug and carefully spoon the whipped cream on top. Start sipping after the cream starts melting into a heavenly, chocolate-laced foam. I like to reserve half the cream for when I’m halfway through the drink and I need more foam on top. I’m all about maximizing the experience.
*If you are avoiding dairy, obviously skip this or use whipped coconut cream instead. I’ve never made it, so I’m sorry that I do not have a recipe for it. Consult Mr. Google or Mrs. Pinterest.
Play around with the measurements if you don’t like what’s going on. Replace part of the vanilla with different extracts like peppermint, almond, or orange. Peppermint’s our family’s Christmastime favorite. Pictured is my “Almond Joy” hot chocolate, which is vanilla and almond extracts with toasted coconut on top. Super delicious.
Add whatever you want for flavor — coffee, nut butters, fall spices, ethnic spices, liquor. (At this point I wash my hands of any ill effects on your health.) Mix the spices or extracts into the whipped cream. Be a hipster and experiment with things like savory herbs or bacon. Just kidding — don’t fix what ain’t broke.