Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Ultimate Hot Chocolate

When it is cold outside, all I want to do is curl up with a nice cup of cocoa and a good book. It snowed most of the day yesterday, so cocoa just seemed appropriate.

For this recipe you will want to use good chocolate and not chocolate chips (they put a stabilizer in chocolate chips to keep their shelf life that they don't use in the bars. If you can find them, the chunks are best--these will be in the specialty foods area of your grocer--in whole foods it is by the wine). Keep in mind that this is a very decadent hot chocolate, so feel free to just use milk for a more thinner finished product.

We are spoiled living in DC and having access to so many amazing farms. We get our milk from a small dairy in Pennsylvania called Trickling Springs. As much as I love tomatoes...I love my milk. My grandma gave me a little chocolate milk blender when I was a kid because chocolate milk was a nightly ritual for me. Oddly enough, my sister is not so much a fan of milk--unless it's in her morning coffee in the form of a flavored creamer! Anyhow, Trickling Springs has the best milk bar none, so this is what we use.

Ina Garten
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 cups half-and-half
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder (Williams Sonoma makes a nice espresso powder)

Heat the milk and half-and-half in a saucepan on medium heat to just below the simmering point. Remove the pan from the heat and add both chocolates. When the chocolates are melted, add the sugar, vanilla extract, and espresso and whisk vigorously. Reheat gently and serve immediately.

If you want an even more decadent hot chocolate make a vanilla bean whipped cream with a little chocolate shavings on top (just whip your cream--1/2 cup or so...add a little powdered sugar and scrape one vanilla bean and a splash of pure vanilla extract...I'll make some soon and post a picture...I just didn't have any heavy cream on hand :P)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cream of Tomato Soup

Those of you who know me well know that I LOVE seriously...raw, ketchup, canned...and especially in soup. I miss having neighbors who bring bushels of tomatoes over--my dad is now trying his hand at a garden; if Dan and I get any yard space I am all over that. Anyhow, I wanted to try making tomato soup from scratch instead of my usual Campbell's route.

This is a very delicious version; I'm not 100% satisfied with it yet, but it's close. I added french bread croutons on top--very easy--just diced up a day old loaf of french bread--coated it in olive oil and popped it into the already heated oven from roasting the tomatoes (about 8 minutes).

Roasting the tomatoes really brings out another depth of flavor. I added a splash of balsamic to the roasting--i just like the sweetness it adds.

Cream of Tomato Soup
Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen & Deb Perlman

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
Splash of Balsamic Vinegar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Pinch ground allspice
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium
1/2 cup heavy cream2 tablespoons brandy or dry sherry
Salt and cayenne pepper

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450°F. Lined rimmed baking sheet with foil. With fingers, carefully open whole tomatoes over strainer set in bowl and push out seeds, allowing juices to fall through strainer into bowl. Spread seeded tomatoes in single layer on foil. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar & Balsamic. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside. (I actually did this on parchment paper).

2. Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. Add shallots, tomato paste and allspice. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to combine; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

3. Pour mixture through strainer and into medium bowl; rinse out saucepan. Transfer tomatoes and solids in strainer to blender; add 1 cup strained liquid and puree until smooth. Place pureed mixture and remaining strained liquid in saucepan. Add cream and warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in brandy and season with salt and cayenne. Serve immediately. (I actually froze the remaining soup--I put half of the soup in freezer containers before adding the cream or brandy--so it would freeze better--worked like a charm.

Max & Remi

Remi met his best friend for the first time a few weeks ago (I'm slow on posting here). Maxwell is MB's little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He doesn't look like your average cavalier, but that's part of what makes him great. He has a fun loving, goofy little personality--he should be a Muppet character.

MB and W have a cool park by their apartment downtown where we met up for our play date. It is a huge, open green space with lots of other nice dogs/owners. MB brought 2 tennis balls for the fuzzy guys (W called as she was trying to throw them.)

Remi didn't really get what was going on at first, so Max chased after the tennis balls and Remi chased after worked. We kept Remi on his leash because he hasn't grasped "come" yet, and so we weren't comfortable letting him run free.

In all it was a successful play date. We're hoping to have another soon at our place.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Remi's 1st Christmas

For Christmas this year we decided to drive home to Texas to visit both sides of the fam. We went to L town first where Dan's parents met us to spend Christmas eve and Christmas day (above is Remi on Christmas morning in his pjs). Along the 20 plus hour drive we discovered that Rembot is indeed a good road dog as he mostly curled up and slept in the car as we rolled along.

Remi became rather attached to his uncle Eric--I'm pretty sure the little guy misses having the extra attention and "dog friends" in the form of Buddy and Dillon. He did us proud and was very well behaved on the whole.

The weekend before we left for Tejas we had a blizzard with close to 2 feet of snow here in DC...Remi's first snow...he had a blast. Although, we quickly discovered that the little guy is an ice magnet...he romps around for 10 minutes and his leg fur had ice clods dangling and when we got him inside he was shivering, so we had to give him a warm bath to release all the ice.

Last but not least is our Christmas card photo this year--I always like the cards with the photos because it is fun to see how people have changed or where they have been over the year. We put Remington on the front because he's our newest addition, and I don't much like being in front of the camera so it worked out well.