24 February 2017

Big Likes #1: My Favorite Cocoa

I was feeling like I hit a bit of a rut this week here at the blog. It's funny how you can feel like you have lots of blog post ideas and then some days just nothing inspires you. So today I decided to start a new column of sorts called Big Likes. Big likes are things I'm really enjoying at the moment.

I was out early this morning for an appointment and I will just say that the freezing cold wind is still blowing. Ergh. So when I got home I was ready for something cozy and decided that some cocoa would really hit the spot.

Yesterday would have been my paternal grandmother's 116th birthday and she made the absolute best cocoa I have ever tasted. I learned to add salt and vanilla from her. She also made her cocoa with evaporated milk which of course was delicious. I think she mixed regular milk with the evaporated milk. It's been so long since I watched her make it as a little girl that I realize I can't quite remember anymore. That's a little bit sad. Life passes so quickly!

I generally don't make a big pot of cocoa and I'm really the only one in the family who drinks it. The Man drinks his cocoa from a water-added packet made with his Keurig machine. Ick! So I make my cocoa one cup at a time for myself.

I have been loving Swiss Miss Simply Cocoa all winter long. I love all these "Simply" products that have been coming out that use real sugar and real ingredients without all the additives. I will gladly pay the extra to support any company who is returning to a more all natural ingredients list for products that I want to use!

I love that Simply Cocoa is a "mix with real, hot milk" version. No watered down gunky cocoa for me! I want creamy and not too heavy. Last fall I found these on sale for a dollar per box so I loaded up and what a great idea that was. I had a nice supply to get me through the winter and it was there waiting for me any time I wanted something warm. I'm down to one box, so it's time to stock up soon. Here's my secret recipe:

For a large "cappuccino" size mug:
Cup full of 1% milk
1 & 1/2 packets of cocoa mix
3-5 drops of vanilla extract
dash of kosher salt

I heat the milk up in the microwave on high for 90 sections, then stir it so that the heat distributes evenly and does not curdle the milk. This time and temperature can vary from microwave to microwave. In LA, our apartment microwave could only do a minute at a time without ruining the milk so you have to experiment. I have a bunch of little whisks I use for stirring throughout my cocoa making process. I use one to stir the milk and then they are great for incorporating the cocoa powder and other ingredients.

After stirring I microwave the milk for 30 more seconds. Then I add the cocoa mix, vanilla and salt and stir it again with my cute whisk. And we're done. So yummy. You can top it off with whipped cream if you want or add cream or half and half or whatever you want. We keep a can of spray whipped cream in the fridge at all times so it's easy to create a big whipped cloud on top if I'm in the mood.

I can't tell you how happy it made me to sip a cup, all alone in my office this morning when I got home and was chilled to the bone. I turned on my little space heater and was one happy camper! I paired my cocoa up with toasted waffles topped with a yummy new preserve I picked up this week. That will be the subject of my next "Big Like."

23 February 2017

The Windy Season & Baking Cupcakes

Last week the first blossoms of Spring appeared in our front yard, a small Forsythia bush suddenly had flowers on it. Our bush in the backyard is still totally twiggy which is a strange comparison. I know for sure Spring has arrived in New Mexico when the wind starts to blow. It doesn't just blow, it's more like a howl and it will blow for weeks and weeks. Last year the spring winds were still blowing strong well into June if I remember right.

We have a lot of trees around our property and that factor just ups the wind noise and sense of disorder and unrest it brings as you watch the trees rock and roll and rock and roll out the windows. Every room in our house is at least 2 walls of windows so there's no getting away from the visuals of the wind either. This wind business is very high on my very short list of things I don't like about living on a wide open plain.

Not only does the wind blow but it also brings with it a lot of dust and even worse pollen. Yesterday I jumped out of my chair when I saw what I thought was smoke billowing across the backside of our house. When I called out to The Man, while at the same time noticing that the cloud was dissipating, he said it was probably pollen. Both our cars were covered in it this morning. Had to wash down my windshield before I could leave the house today. My nose had been running all day which means it's time to start thinking about daily allergy medicine for the next few months. I never needed allergy meds in California, so to have to start taking it again here bugs me.

The wind blows all day and it blows all night. Nights are tough because you're trying to sleep and the house is rocking and the trees are flailing and the noise is loud. I've mentioned that our master is a lot of glass walls which is usually a wonderful, wooded scene to look out on, but with the wind, it feels a little scary, wild and unruly...not the best environment for falling asleep peacefully or staying asleep.

I'm not sure I know anyone who likes wind. I have a few family members who really dislike the disruptive feeling of constant wind. There is something about it that is very disturbing to the soul, both the sound and the feeling of it. I can feel it seeping in one of the windows into my office right now. I don't like how it feels cutting through my clothes either. Today is it a very cold wind with full sun, but it just feels cold.

It's a little depressing to think that we're in day two of the windy season it seems and it could go for several more months. It won't be every day but it will be a lot of days and nights. There will be a lot of wind warnings and checking weather apps to see how many miles per hour the current winds are blowing. I'm just now starting to try to wrap my head around that. I feel like this usually doesn't start happening until a little later in the year. Not sure how I feel about the early start and wondering how long it will last. Thankfully I think we have a couple of trips out of state coming in the next few weeks. We're going to need it.

It's time to figure out what I can do to get through this season. One thing will definitely be to make the most of the days and evenings when the wind isn't blowing. I am loving that the sun is going down later and later each week. Another thought is that I should plan out some activities I can do indoors, like bake cupcakes. I went to a class by a wonderful young woman I know here on cupcake decorating a few weeks ago. Now that I've have learned a few new techniques, I am interested in making better cupcakes and learning to make better frosting. One of the most eye-opening things she taught us was to use half shortening and half butter for butter cream frosting. It doesn't affect the taste but the frosting holds up a lot better and doesn't wilt or melt as easily.

I made cupcakes last night but just used a boxed cake mix and then I made the frosting and ended up not liking that recipe very much. With wimpy cupcakes and frosting I didn't like the taste of, I turned these all over to my family who like things a lot more chocolate-y than I do. If I made this frosting again I'd want to cut back by a quarter of a cup of cocoa at least. But it was fun to play around for a bit trying new options. I want to get more serious about the quality and density of the cupcakes. I need to start researching recipes.

I really appreciate about everything I've learned about cooking and baking the past two or three years because I can better analyze and sometimes alter recipes. Just typing that got me wondering how nad why I have learned so much quite recently in the cooking realm. I think it may just be a whole lot of experience and more courage to experiment. I feel much more comfortable with seasonings and spices and ingredient amounts than I ever did before. That's a nice feeling when you can personalize your recipe. So I guess I'm personalizing both my efforts to survive the windy season and my food creating right now in my life. Ha.

Next week a friend is hosting another cupcake class, so I am excited to go with all my questions ready to be asked and to take in a lot more information this time around. Should be fun and I think that I'll be able to jump in and have some fun new options in the cupcake department soon. Now would be a good time to pick up some of those beautiful cupcake papers I always see at Home Goods!

I hope you are managing well your way through the windy seasons that are happening in your life right now. I know we all have them of one kind of another. Spring flowers are also coming so there is always something to look forward to no matter which directions and at what velocity the winds come. I'm going to focus on some inside projects: baking, finishing up some creative projects and getting our home ready for summer. Sending you warmest wishes!


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