Hot Chocolate, Plain and Simple

Imgp0874 So much for the promise of spring. After a couple of days of relative warmth and sun, it's coming down like a snowglobe outside. Driving would be suicidal considering my neighborhood rests at the top of a hill. The place where I'd like to go to get some hot chocolate conveniently at the bottom of said hill. I don't want it that much. Wait. I lied. I so do. Luckily, there's a pantry to raid. Thank god for those random bits of chocolate scattered at the bottom of the Ziploc storage bag. Hey, at least I saved $20 (gourmet hot chocolate ain't cheap, folks).

Imgp0868 It's Sunday morning. I'm kind of hung over. And I'm really tired. Should I really be playing with fire? Dairy products heated over a fire, no less? God help me if I burn down my house. But it would be absolutely unforgiveable if I scorched the precious cream from the Brown Family farm in Coalville, Utah. Imgp0869 It's true, though. This cream really is worth it. I've been to the dairy, just a few minutes drive outside that glitzy Park City mountain hamlet, with its hybrid of modern technology and cow surveillance with good old fashioned family dairy farming. It isn't industrial by any means, though the bigger guys would love to drive them out. After one day with Mr. Brown, Jr. (never did catch his first name) I left with a lot more respect for farmers who stick it out on their own with threat of corporate takeover and buyout. This cream is pure lactose heaven. It's thick. Makes the best creme fraiche. And if you can imagine it, one step below that on the dairy scale is their "Farmstyle milk." More milk fat than their whole milk. But today, I play with cream, picked up on last week's meager grocery trip (again, I can't really cook in the pig-sty, er, kitchen). Imgp0870 I've come to the conclusion that a lot of the gourmet drinking chocolates I've been investing in are just glorified shaved or pellets of chocolate. Maybe dusted with some sort of flavoring and put into a much prettier package than my trusy Ziploc storage bags.

The chocolate matters here. It really does. No joke. If you get okay chocolate, the drink will be okay. If you get mind blowingly good quality bean-to-bar chocolate, the results, will be, well, read the previous clause.

Valrhona, Amano (from goodl ol' Utah - makers of the third best dark chocolate bar in the world, baby), Domori, all are excellent. Some, like the Valrhona come in convenient "feves" or little seeds, like pellets of goodness you can melt easily in the pot or pop into your mouth. Others you'll have to shave, like this block here. Once it is shaved on my cutting board and it's thrown into a warm pot of cream. If you want the chocolate to have some other sort of flavoring, warm it up (i.e. booze like grand marnier, rum, etc.) or steep it in the cream (i like a whole dried chili, or a cinnamon stick, or orange peel...you get the idea).

Essentially you've made what's called a "ganache" - dairy and chocolate melted together. Less liquid, thicker ganache, i.e. truffles. Good food is always derivative from something fantastic. This recipe is no exception.  And since it is so simple, again, quality matters. You wouldn't try to craft a tiara out of turds, would you? Skittles, maybe.

Homemade Drinking Chocolate, Courtesy of a Blizzard and Lazy Disposition I just like the idea of using one ingredient for several things. Like one huge chunk of baking chocolate for dessert, baking, snacking, and now, drinking. I'm all for paying for good things to eat, but by jove, I've gotta be practical, too. Plus, the whole tactile practice of chopping the chocolate and having some of it melt onto your hands, minding a warming pot of cream, and stirring until the chunks just melt into the white cream, makes you feel pretty damn special. I drink out of bowls because I like to. Cups with handles are perfectly fine. For one

2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped finely * 1 cup heavy cream OR 1 cup of milk, if you must * slightly sweetened whipped cream * cinnamon, vanilla, or booze like Grand Marnier, to taste (optional) In a small saucepan over medium low heat, warm the cream slowly. It should never boil. Maybe the circumference will quiver a bit, but it should heat up without much commotion. When you can't leave your finger in the milk for more than 10 seconds, add the chocolate and stir with a whisk (this is the only time I ever use "egg whisk") until the chocolate fully melts into the cream. Add whatever seasoning you desire. Serve warm in mugs, bowls, or cups. Add whipped cream if desired. But I like mine just plain.