Hot Chocolate #1 & My Search For The Ultimate

The Ultimate Hot Cocoa | Brittany's PantryThe ultimate hot chocolate.  It is true that I love tea, coffee, and a really fantastic apple cider.  But if I had to limit myself to one hot drink for the remainder of my days, it would be hot chocolate.  No surprise that a mocha is my favorite caffeinated drink!  I have always loved hot chocolate.  Maybe its the creaminess.  Hmmmm… I don’t really know, but I never get sick of drinking it.  And while I am perfectly happy with the individual packets that come out of the box, a certain event changed my life forever.

About 5 years ago, my husband and I were driving from San Diego up the coast of California for a wedding.  We were with several friends that we hadn’t seen since the previous year when my husband got out of the Navy and we were a little wired.  We stopped for brunch at this fantastic little french bakery and cafe.  I have no idea what the name of it was (I am trying to research and figure it out) but it was split into two rooms.  One side, the smaller of the two, was the cafe.  It was lots of wood and random tables and chairs, but quaint and comfy.  The other side was sorta long skinny with a table that ran down the length of the room.  All pastries!  Cakes, petit fours, breads, tarts, croissants, chocolate, puffs…anything you could imagine.  Literally, hundreds of baked goods and confections.  I am a sucker for a good bakery.  Ah.  Who am I kidding.  I love the cruddy ones too.  But this was incredible.  The staff all spoke french and only our server and the woman behind the register at the bakery seemed to speak broken English.

But lets get back to the food.
And ooooohhh my goodness.  The food…(drool, drool)

I ordered the Eggs Benedict and a Hot Chocolate.  Little did I know these two things would forever change the standards by which I rate all other eggs benedicts and hot chocolates.  The food I will cover in a different blog, as I haven’t the time and space to give it the proper praises.  But the hot chocolate.  *sigh*  The chocolate was shaved from a block and hot milk was poured over top and stirred.  I watched them whip the cream and generously cover the top of my mug with it, then shave more chocolate on top.  When it arrived, I could have shared with everyone at the table and still had leftovers.  It was HUGE!  The milk was fresh-I swear they must have had a cow out back-and rich (no skim here people!) and the chocolate wasn’t too sweet, too bitter or too thick.  Up till then, and since, I have not tasted anything even close to that.

So am I on the search for the ultimate hot chocolate?  Yes and no.  I mean, I really already found the best one.  And while I would appreciate having unlimited access to my own french bakery (why are they so rare in the middle of Illinois?) that is not my reality.  My reality is teddy grahams, cheerios, carrot sticks and sippy cups.  I have no problem with cheap and easy.  Hot chocolate that its…

So here it is.  My newly created recipe for hot chocolate.  I have been working on several different methods of making an at home, decadent, creamy, hot chocolate that is worthy.  Not too complicated, not too labor intensive, and it has to be enough for our family of four.  Currently, this is it.  Rich flavor without much fuss and perfect for the season.  I was out of whole milk on the day I experimented with this, so it isn’t in the recipe.  That is what I would usually use to make a good hot chocolate but let the record show, I normally drink 1%.  Use whatever combination tastes good to you.  If you used only skim milk, it wouldn’t be as rich, but it would be quite healthy.  Especially since this recipe uses cocoa powder; rich in antioxidants and flavor but without all the fat, sugar, and stabilizers in some chocolate.  So indulge all you want!  And support your local bakery.  You never know when you might miss it.The Ultimate Hot Cocoa | Brittany's Pantry Empty cup, waiting for the goodness.The Ultimate Hot Cocoa | Brittany's Pantry Hot Chocolate #1

In a medium saucepan stir together:
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1/3 c hot water
Whisk constantly over medium heat until it comes to a boil.  Keep stirring and boil one minute.
Add: 4 c of milk (I used 3 c of 1% and 1 c of cream or all whole milk).

Heat gently until it is hot and at serving temperature.  At this point you can add whatever you like to flavor it.  1/2 tsp of peppermint extract, vanilla, ground cinnamon, instant coffee, maple extract, rum extract, orange liqueur.  Pour into 4 mugs and serve.  Top with marshmallows or whipped cream, if desired.

Spiced Tea-Coziness In A Cup!

Orange Spiced Tea Mix from Brittany's Pantry is perfect for chilly days or holiday gifts!Mmmmm.  Just the mention of this drink makes me close my eyes and sigh.  My sisters, my Mother and I drink this year round, anytime a chilly day brings forth the need to curl up with something hot and comforting.  I love coffee, and a steaming cup of Constant Comment is my beverage of choice when feeling a bit sick.  But frosty autumn and winter nights seem to call out for something special.  Something that reminds you of the cider drinks of your childhood, but with a twist.  This recipe fits the bill.  Just the right balance of spice and tang, its great in the morning with toast or in the evening with a great movie…say…White Christmas!  The mix makes a great gift so be sure to share some with a loved one.Orange Spiced Tea Mix from Brittany's Pantry is perfect for chilly days or holiday gifts!Orange Spiced Tea Mix from Brittany's Pantry is perfect for chilly days or holiday gifts! Spiced Tea
The mix will keep in an airtight container for several months.

1 1/2 c orange Tang
3/4 c instant iced tea mix
1 1/2 c sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger

Mix all ingredients until well combined.  Mix 1 T of mix into one mug of hot water.  Adjust to taste if necessary.

Marshmallow Pumpkin Dip

Marshmallow Pumpkin Dip | Brittany's PantryThanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday, mainly, I suppose, because it is centered around eating.  Roast turkey and mashed potatoes are at the top of my very long list of favorite foods and when you add in the fact that you are with family and friends without the stress of gift giving, everyone just relaxes and has a great time.  I am a firm believer in tradition, but Thanksgiving is where I love to mix it up.  With the exception of a great bird (I like it plain and simple) and creamy mashed potatoes, everything else on the menu is subject to change.  I do like to serve some sort of pumpkin dessert, but not necessarily pie.  If I was allowed I would leave off the stuffing completely, and the fact that my husband likes green bean casserole sooo much causes me significant misery.  I like it too, but if I never ate it again, it would be too soon!  Do something different people!  There are so many amazing dishes out there just waiting for you to try.  My only advice is to test the recipe before you serve it to a crowd of people.  You don’t want to experiment with Braised Brussels Sprouts and Bacon, only to discover that the recipe has too much vinegar in it and no one can eat it.  While these episodes make for a memorable holiday, they add stress too.  Something we all wish to avoid at large family gatherings.

Expecting a crowd?  Feed them Marshmallow Pumpkin Dip while they watch the game and wait for the main meal.  It has all the flavors of the season but mixes up a lot faster than a pie.  I made this a few days ago and we all really liked it, even the kids.  I have no idea where I got this recipe or even how long I have had it, but it is cut from a magazine.  Anything with cream cheese catches my eye so I was particularly drawn to this recipe.  Adjust the spices as you like.Marshmallow Pumpkin Dip | Brittany's Pantry Marshmallow Pumpkin Dip

1/2 c mashed pumpkin, canned or fresh
1/2 c marshmallow cream
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk till smooth.  Serve with sliced apples and crunchy gingersnap cookies.  Graham crackers are great too.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Healthy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds via Brittany's PantryThey taste just as good as I remember them.  I haven’t had pumpkins seeds since I was a kid!  My Mom always kept them when we would carve pumpkins and from what I remember, they never lasted very long.  As in, we ate them all so quickly.  Granted, I have five siblings and food in general never really lasted that long.  Pumpkin seeds, sometimes identified as pepitas in the grocery store, are extremely good for you.  The are high in iron, protein, and magnesium, but click on the link for the complete low-down of their nutritional benefits.  And they are cheap!  Well, cheap if you are willing to gut a pumpkin and subject yourself to the slime within.  This is much easier if you have kids who will do it for you.  As my children are under the age of five, and I was holding an expensive camera (ie slime free zone) it was my husband who assisted in the carving and scraping of our pumpkins.  After we cleaned up the seeds and roasted them, my kids pounced on them as though we hadn’t fed them in days.  Even my 18 month old was snitching them off the sheet pan on the counter.  Now, you can shell pumpkins seeds, discarding the large outer shell in favor of the soft, smaller seed inside, but I honestly don’t know anyone who does that.  Its tedious, a lot of work for not much gain, and in my opinion, unnecessary.  If roasting your own pumpkin seeds is something you have never done I highly recommend  it.  You only get this chance once a year and its a great way to get involved with the spirit of the season.  Hopefully, you won’t have to share with three brothers and two sisters.Healthy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds via Brittany's Pantry Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Once you have removed the seeds from the pumpkin, rinse thoroughly in warm water, taking care to separate the seeds from the stringy orange membrane.  They do not need to be spotless.  Any pumpkin piece left on the seeds will just add flavor, but I personally like them pretty clean.  Mix the seeds with a few drizzles of olive oil, just to lightly coat them.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and spread in an even layer on a metal baking sheet.  Roast at 325 for 10 minutes, toss with a spatula, and roast for another 10 minutes.  Let them go a little longer if you like them really toasted.  Once cool, them will last for a few days, tightly sealed on the counter, a few weeks in the fridge, or a few months in the freezer.

Variation:  Use season salt instead of salt and pepper.  Use a bit of cayenne and cumin if you like them spicy.  Use cinnamon and cloves if you want them a bit sweet.  These are great tossed in with granola or trail mix.

Margaritas, June Bugs, and Tea

The BEST Margaritas Ever | Brittany's PantryMmmmm.  There is nothing like reaching for an ice cold beverage when its a million degrees outside.  And trust me.  Right now, in central Illinois, its about that hot.  Personally, I like a nice strong, sweet tea.  In fact, sweet tea is one of my favorite all time drinks.  I suppose I developed a taste for it when I was young.  My parents used to make sun tea in a pickle jar.  Remember those enormous glass pickle jars with the green lid?   They were huge!  A gallon.  We had several, scrubbed clean, filled with water, and about 5 plain Lipton tea bags floating at the top.  We would set the jar out in a sunny spot and and heat from the sun would warm the water.  I used to love to sit and watch the dark, red-brown gold color seep from the top to the bottom.  I’m not sure how long we let it steep like that (I remember several occasions when we forgot and left it out all day) but after awhile we brought it in and mixed in lemon juice and sugar.  The sugar dissolved easily because the whole jar was pleasantly warm and with five other siblings, we easily polished off a jar in one meal.  Its been years since I’ve made sun tea-and even longer since I bought my pickles in a gallon jar-but I remember the flavor of that drink with such fondness, I measure all sweet teas against it.  Of course grilled hamburgers, sun bleached hair, and dirty toes add to the memory, but I stand by my taste buds.

So there you have it.  My drink of choice.  But after all that, I’m not giving you a special iced tea recipe.  No sir, far from it.  Instead I’m posting three drinks that I have come to fall back on when I need a classic, or just need something everyone likes.  I rarely drink so two out of the three are non alcoholic, but if you choose to spike them, I won’t tell anyone.  As usual, these are collected from various sources.  Until this moment I guess I never realized how un-experimental I am with beverages, but I know what I like and am passing my research on to you.
Note: All beverages taste better outside in a lawn chair with your feet up.  Dirty toes are optional.

Jane’s Margaritas
This recipe comes from my sister-in-law’s mother.  I don’t know if she created it or not but everyone who drinks them seems to say the same thing.  “These are the best margaritas I have ever had!”  You be the judge.

6 oz (1/2 can) frozen limeade concentrate
1/4 c triple sec
3/4 c tequila
12 cubes of ice, about half a blender full
Blend in a blender until smooth and frothy.

June Bug Punch - A refreshing drink the whole family can enjoy! {Brittany's Pantry} June Bug
I came across this recipe just a few months ago in the June edition of Better Homes and Gardens.  I made it for my daughters 4th birthday party and it tastes AWESOME.  It quickly became a favorite of kids and adults alike.  Seriously, soooo gooood.

3 c ginger ale
1/4 c grenadine
1/4 c orange juice
3 scoops orange sherbet
Blend together all ingredients.  Pour into ice filled glasses.  (To make a version with alcohol, add a splash of white rum to individual glasses or a 1/2 c to the pitcher.)

Herbal Iced Tea | Brittany's Pantry - No added sugar makes this as healthy as it is refreshing. Herbal Iced Tea
This is a recipe from the cookbook Barefoot Contessa, Family Style, by Ina Garten.  Even though this recipe is one of her most simple, the woman is a food genius.  I know it sounds crazy, but follow the directions.  No sugar needed.

4 Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger tea bags
4 Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger tea bags
4 c pure apple juice

Steep the 8 tea bags in 4 c of water for 10 minutes.  Remove the tea bags and add the apple juice.  Chill till cold.