Sip cocoa with Harryhausen
Winter is practically here.
Despite my assembly of a costume of layers, I get cold and shiver in the wind outside. But, I am brave because I have plans to keep myself warm in the kitchen. The soup pot will be my companion. I’ll dream of mugs of hot cocoa and then make them materialize. Loaves of bread will be as comforting as pillows.
Anything can provide a happy excuse to make food in the kitchen that celebrates. Perhaps you have unearthed an interesting artifact, a square head nail, in the garden dirt. I feel a need to celebrate the arrival of the pink and green fall leaves I cannot resist collecting each year.
Hot cocoa effectively warms a kitchen and a body. It is heated slow on the stove top and consumed at about the same pace.
Credit for hot cocoa in my house must go to Lucas. He unloads the FedEx ground truck from Portland practically single-handedly but also specializes in uncommon skills like this. His is the best cup of cocoa I’ve had.
To make hot cocoa for two, finely chop about half a bar (2 ounces) of dark chocolate. Ghiradelli’s is commonly available and is a reliably delicious brand for hot cocoa. Because experimentation is important in the kitchen, I would say to use whatever you like, but some chocolates melt better than others and some are better off being gobbled from the stash you keep in your desk drawer. We use dark chocolate with a cacao content of at least 60 percent.
Combine the chocolate and two cups of whole milk in a sauce pan. Heat slowly on medium low, stirring gently almost constantly. The cocoa is done when the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Choose a favorite mug to drink out of and play Scrabble or watch an old movie like “The Valley of Gwangi’’ in which a cowboy fist fights a pterodactyl (courtesy of Ray Harryhausen). Easy breezy.
Another thing that will keep us warm this fall and winter is homemade granola. It’s breakfast, a snack to eat with yogurt or ice cream or a crunchy handful straight to the mouth.
From Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, granola is made by preheating the oven to 350 degrees — a perfect start. In a huge bowl, mix together 4 1/2 cups of medium-cut organic rolled oats, 1/4 cup oat bran, 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup sesame seeds, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 cup blanched and sliced almonds, 1/4 cup whole cashews, 1/4 cup coarsely chopped Brazil nuts and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts.
In another bowl, combine 1/3 cup vegetable oil like canola, 1/2 cup pure maple syrup and 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup or unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap). Coat the dry ingredients with the wet mixture. Spread evenly on a greased baking sheet (with a lip) and bake for 15 to 20 minutes stirring every 5 minutes. Let the granola cool and toss with dried fruit or even dark chocolate chips if you must.
A thousand variations can be made to the recipe. Have a brainstorming session with your loved ones for ideas. Tender hemp seeds, candied pecans, dates — all are possible.
Stay warm and keep full.