Friday, March 19, 2010

You Can Make That!? Hot Cocoa Mix

Welcome to the second installment of my new little series called You Can Make That!? As I explained in my last post on how to make your own nut butter, this series demystifies commonly purchased food stuffs which many of us assume can only be bought in a package. It is my hope that you can make many of your favorite food staples at home, for much cheaper than storebought, and in much better quality! (i.e. without all the gunky, overly-refined, faux-food additions that usually end up in our bellies)

Jordan and I started making our own cocoa mix after we'd gone through a huge tub of hot cocoa mix my mom had bought for us. She knew how much Jordan loved cocoa, and in her thoughtfulness and love for us, she bought a Costco tub of Carnation cocoa. It was too sweet for my taste, dark chocolate lover that I am, but Jordan loved it and drank a cup of cocoa nearly every other night. One night, however, we turned the tub over in curiosity, to look at the ingredients. Reading that list was almost enough to make Jordan stop drinking cocoa entirely. So I figured out how to make our own.

We discovered that hot cocoa mixes use poor-quality chocolate, which has often been burned in the processing... process (!). So, more sugar than necessary is put in to compensate for the potentially bitter taste of said burnt chocolate. And, because it's assumed that hot cocoa mixes will be mixed into hot water, lots of weird hydrogenated things are added to make the cocoa taste more creamy.

Here is our little recipe for hot cocoa mix that we've come to love. I recently served a cup to a friend and he said, "Tora, that was the best cocoa I've ever had." He didn't know it was homemade mix. But yes, it is that good.

Hot Cocoa Mix

one glass jar with tight fitting lid

(really. that's all you need.)

In your jar, mix equal parts of the following three ingredients:
* unsweetened cocoa powder (Fry's, Nestle, whatever)
* sugar (white granulated)
* dry milk powder (you can buy it in the baking supplies section)

Add a dash of any of the following to suit your taste:
* salt
* ground cinnamon
* cayenne pepper
* instant OR finely ground espresso powder

Shake it up! Tightly screw on the lid and store in your cupboard, which hopefully is dry and cool.

When you're ready to make a cup of cocoa, do what Jordan and I do. Or don't. Come up with your own way to do it. (That is, after all, what this series is all about. Doing it your own way.)

We fill our cocoa mugs with milk, and microwave them for a few minutes, until the milk is steamy. I scoop in a few (2-3, depending on the size of the mug and how strong you like your cocoa) heaping tablespoons of cocoa mix, and stir. Make sure to rub out any clumps of cocoa against the side of your mug with the back of the spoon. Unless you like clumpy cocoa. Jordan usually adds a little extra dash of sugar, which makes me cringe. Add marshmallows, preferably homemade ones... or ones from Butter Bakery on Dunbar Street. (Yes, you can make those too! But that's for another post.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

You Can Make That!? Nut Butter

Welcome to the first post of a new series on my blog, inspired by my husband. We're calling it "You Can Make That!?" Here's why. There are many common food items we take for granted as un-makeable, only buy-able. Cream of mushroom soup comes in a can. Alfredo sauce comes in a jar. Peanut butter, bread, nutella, jam, granola, applesauce, hot cocoa, mac-n-cheese, pizza, spaghetti sauce... the list goes on and on! And we* assume, that since these things have always** come in packages, that they will forever after only be acquired by purchasing these packages.

However, we have been slowly discovering more things that we can make for ourselves. And the benefits are incredible, particularly in quality and cost. Jordan likes bragging about all our homemade food. Which always elicits the response, "You can make that?"

Yes. Yes you can.

Today I'm spilling the beans on our homemade peanut butter. Nut butter is one of the first things I started making at home. We tried a few versions until we landed on a blend of almonds and peanuts that we really love. You can use any kind of nut you like, depending on what texture of nut butter you prefer. If you like something smooth, creamy, and light, you'll could use peanuts, cashews, or walnuts. Of course, peanuts and cashews have a lot of fat in them. Almonds and hazelnuts will be lower in fat, but will produce a denser butter.

This is more of a method than a recipe. Once you've made one nut butter, you'll have mastered the basic concept so you can branch out from there. Tweak and play with the ratios of nuts until you find one that you really like.

* "We" refers to our generation... the 20-40 somethings who have grown up with the glories of packaged food.
** Well... as long as "we" can remember! But, we forget that anything that now comes in a package once came through a little ingenuity and a little work in the home kitchen.

Homemade Nut Butter

rimmed baking sheet
food processor

3 cups whole, raw nuts (we use 2 cups almonds and 1 cup peanuts)
a dash each of salt and sugar (about 1 tsp, if you're a measuring sort of person)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pour the nuts onto the rimmed baking sheet, making sure they're spread out in a single layer. Toast them in your hot oven for 10 minutes, keeping a close eye on them. Don't let them burn! Stir them or turn them over with a pancake flipper once.

Let them cool completely.

Pour the nuts into your food processor. (you'll need a food processor bowl with at least 4 cup capacity.) Plug your ears. This part gets loud. Process the nuts for about 10 minutes, until they turn from nuts into powder into paste into your desired consistency. Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl a few times, so you get an even consistency. At around minute 5, the nuts will begin to release their naturally occurring oils, and the butter will get more and more pliable. The butter might also begin to get warm and steam up the processor bowl. Don't worry... nothing's wrong.

Taste the butter, and add salt and sugar to taste. (I find that the combination of toasted nuts and savory-sweet works really well together.)

Pour your butter into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. I use a 2-pint mason jar with a wide mouth. We keep the butter in the fridge, and it never sticks around long enough to go bad. But, you could probably keep it up to a couple months.

Because you're not adding any oil to the butter, you won't have much trouble with separation. If you find your butter separates at all, just stir it back in.