Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hot Cocoa

Last night an ice storm blew through. Dallas being what it is, essentially a warm weather spot, this means that the town has shut down. People left work early yesterday, schools are closed, no traffic can be heard on the main road near our house, businesses will open late. Yes, I know. To anyone who has lived in harsher climes, this sounds ridiculous. However, when you live with weather that is in the 70s in April, hits two to three weeks of consecutive over 110 degree weather in August and can have you wearing shorts at Thanksgiving and Christmas, that is how it goes.

This is as wintery as it may get so it is time to break out the cocoa in celebration. I am not talking about those powdered mixes. Nor yet am I going too far on the other side with decadent melted chocolate. We're talking about true all-American cocoa of the sort that my own mother whipped up regularly when I was growing up in Kansas.

I remember reading a few years ago that someone, maybe America's Test Kitchen, discovered that water intensifies chocolate's flavor. News flash, folks. That already was known as you can see if you look at this recipe from one of my favorite American cookbooks, The New Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna.

Be sure to use whole milk, especially since this is using water first in the recipe which will bring out the flavor of the chocolate. Also, if you have a good rich cocoa that helps the drink, of course. I grew up on Hershey's cocoa like the rest of America, but have since found Penzey's cocoa which is a delectably dark cocoa. They recommend Dutch cocoa for cocoa but I only keep natural on hand. It works just fine.

Hot Cocoa
1 serving

1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
1/3 cup water
2/3 cup milk

Mix cocoa, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan, slowly stir in water. Heat and stir over moderately low heat until mixture boils, then boil slowly, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Add milk and heat to scalding [almost boiling] but do not boil.

Cocoa for a Crowd
12 servings

3/4 cup cocoa
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 quart warm water [4 cups]
2 quarts milk

Make as above, except take 8 minutes to incorporate water and bring to a boil.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hot Pepper Popcorn

A little too late for the playoffs but in plenty of time for the Super Bowl, I bring you this popcorn that will delight anyone who enjoys a little spice with their popcorn crunch. This came from Gourmet long, long ago.

It doesn't look any different from regular popcorn as people found out at the Christmas party that I brought it to. I tried to warn everyone but all night people kept coming up to me and saying, "What did you do to that popcorn?"

Granted. that doesn't sound like a positive reaction but almost everyone asked for the recipe. After a very long delay, here it is!

Hot Pepper Popcorn

Step 1:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon Tabasco
2-1/2 quarts unsalted popcorn

In a small saucepan melt butter with Tabasco and drizzle it over popcorn in a large baking pan, tossing well.

Step 2:

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

In a small bowl combine salt and cayenne, sprinkle the mixture over popcorn, tossing it. Bake popcorn in a preheated 300-degree oven, stirring once or twice for 10-15 minutes, or until crisp.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Saveur 100 Foodie Giveaway

Got the January Saveur yesterday and as always for January they have their top 100. This year it comes with a theme of Home Cooking. Sadly, I found this also led to far less interesting items on the top 100. Well, there's always next year.

One interesting thing was their ad for a prize giveaway twice a week for a month and a half. Every Tuesday and Thursday, from Jan. 6 to Feb. 27, log on to, click on that day's prize, and you'll be entered to win.

The other interesting thing was that John Thorne is #24 on the top 100 list. This was of special interest to me not only because of my long-time fandom of Thorne's writing but because he graciously gave me permission to podcast his newest book, Mouth Wide Open. I am doing occasional episodes with chapters of his book at Forgotten Classics, which you can find here.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Top 5 6 Food Books of 2008

Why 6? Because it's one more than 5. In no particular order and chosen from books I read in 2008. Links are to my reviews.
  1. A Tale of Twelve Kitchens by Jake Tilson
  2. The Last Chinese Cook by Nicole Mones
  3. Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid: this book deserves a full-blown review but for the moment let me say that this is Alford and Duguid's best book to date. Focusing on the regions of China that we do not often hear of, especially culinarily, this book showcases their customary excellent photography, usable recipes unique to each region, and (best of all) interested understanding of the people they encounter. For those who say that the best way to peace is to understand others, their books goes a great way toward promoting that doctrine.
  4. How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons
  5. Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen (The recipe she sent me for Turkey Bone Gumbo is kick-ass, y'all)

Dishonorable Mention
  • How to Eat Supper - book design which makes it almost unreadable.
  • Around the World in 80 Dinners by Cheryl & Bill Jamison: Perhaps I feel this so deeply because I have been a fan of the Jamisons' writing since they began publishing long ago. Their Texas Home Cooking is hands-down the best overall book I've ever come across to represent true Texas cooking. With this book they show themselves in an uglier light, however. Jarringly dragging in politics whenever possible (and not just in the way that has become popular in food writing these days), we then are treated to simplistic overviews of the places and people they encounter ... unless that would happen to be a honored Australian wine producer putting on a lavish meal for them.

    Small towns are often dismissed flippantly because there is nothing that Cheryl would care to buy there. I was astounded at how often they cheerily record Bill's snarky put-downs based on the sheerest of reasons. Yes, I know that he thinks he's funny but take it from me, he and Cheryl would be the only ones laughing if these muttered asides were said aloud. I now look at my Texas Home Cooking and wonder just how many times such a put-down was muttered before or after meeting some of the regular folks they encountered in Texas. Try reading some of this book and then comparing it with Beyond the Great Wall or A Tale of Twelve Kitchens where the authors always had genuine, honest interest in the places and people around them, despite less than favorable conditions. This book was such a disappointment that I could only make myself read half of it.