Wednesday, August 16, 2017  

Warmth: The Comfort of 'Hot' Drinks

By Karin Andrews

Tidewater winters are hardly predictable except when it comes to their notorious unpredictability. Here in our neck
of the woods, it can be anything from 65 degrees Fahrenheit with sunny skies one day and a frigid, cloudy 25 degrees Fahrenheit just a few days later. We know without a doubt, that Old Man Winter and Jack Frost will surely leave their calling cards as winter nights will at times be unforgiving and cold.

Winter Is a Time of Rest

All of nature ceases from its labor in winter, as the trees cast off their leaves for a long winter’s nap. As in nature, winter in our own lives can and should be a season of rest—before the activity and glory of spring begins again. This is time to evaluate our priorities, going forward and discern the choices that lay ahead of us. As winter brings a season of rest and reflection, spring brings the promise of new life and opportunity. It is doubtful that there is anything so comforting as a satisfying frothy cup of hot chocolate, coffee with Bailey’s Irish Crème’, or a hot buttered
rum to ward off the chill of winter. There is no other season in life, where deliciously hot delights can impart such comfort.

Turning the Blahs into the Ahs

If we look on the bright side, cold frigid nights and days give us an opportunity for trying an assortment of rich chocolate warmth, or perhaps a creamy and dreamy hot toddy, buttered rum, vanilla chai tea or hot mulled wine. In our hurried lives – there is something richly satisfying about a deliciously warm drink. This article is an attempt to explore the dreamy and steamy way to turn the blahs into ahs and the ho-hum into yum-yum. There is a hot toddy to enjoy for every celebration and every age – the choices are limited only by your adventurous spirit— and imagination. What could be more romantic that a hot steamy cup of hot chocolate shared in front of a roaring fire? What could be more satisfying for children or grandchildren than a cup of steamy hot chocolate? It is everyone’s favorite. The answer is the same, however the choices are limitless. For as long as there has been fire for heat, mankind has known the pleasure and comfort of a hot drink. Below are a few recipes you might want to try.

Decadently Double Hot Chocolate

• ¼ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1cup of milk, semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
• A dash of salt (sea salt is lower in sodium than table salt)
• One full quart of real or soy milk
• One tablespoon of REAL vanilla bean extract
• Sugar or sugar substitute to taste
Gently, add cocoa powder to a saucepan or double boiler. Very slowly add in half of the milk, or milk substitute. Whisk
these together while heating until they are completely blended. Stir constantly and gradually, adding the chocolate chips. Keep whisking until the chocolate has melted thoroughly and is distributed throughout. Finally, add the remainder of the milk or milk substitute, salt and the vanilla. Bring just to the brink of a boil and immediately remove from the heat. Milk will curdle if it is boiled, therefore you must be careful to remove it at the proper time. Immediately pour it into your warmed mugs and top with a generous amount of REAL whipped cream. Some chocolate sprinkles will give it real “wow” factor and make it fun to partake of—for the young and the young at heart!

Vanilla Bean Infused Hot Cocoa Mix

• 2 cups of the cocoa powder of your choice –dark or Dutch process will work well.
• 2 vanilla beans, split and seeded. (You might want to consider buying wholesale Vanilla Beans. I buy mine online from Atlantic Spice Company in Massachusetts. It is well worth the effort to infuse real vanilla into the sugar)
• 4 oz. semi-sweet or milk chocolate, chopped – the best quality chocolate will yield the best results.
• 9 oz. dark (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped. Do not use baking chocolate.
• 3 ½ - 4 cups sugar or sugar substitute if desired. For substitute –follow the directions on your package.
Vanilla Sugar: Open the vanilla pods and place them in the sugar or substitute (in a large zip- lock storage bag). Allow the vanilla bean pods to infuse the sugar for one day, with the delicate taste and smell of real vanilla. Shake the bag gently several times to ensure that all of the sugar has been infused with the vanilla. The next day, remove vanilla pods from the sugar / substitute. Bring just to the brink of a boil and immediately remove from the heat. Milk will curdle if it is boiled, therefore you must be careful to remove it at the proper time. Immediately pour it into your
warmed mugs and top with a generous amount of REAL whipped cream. Some chocolate sprinkles will give it real “wow” factor and make it fun to partake of—for the young and the young at heart! Solid Chocolate: Place chocolate in a food processor and pulse it until the chocolate is chopped into very fine pieces like fine bread crumbs.

In a large bowl, mix the vanilla sugar and the powdered cocoa to the chocolate you just processed. If your food processor is large enough, process everything together at this point. You can also add each item separately to a large bowl, making sure the entire mixture is evenly distributed. Finally, transfer the dry mixture to an air tight storage container. This homemade hot cocoa mix can be stored for up to 6 months. When you are ready for some
rich hot chocolate, add 2 or more tablespoons to a cup of hot steamy milk or milk substitute. This will make a large amount of hot cocoa mix that will last all winter – without preservatives or chemical additives. Top with mini marshmallows or any other favorite toppings.

The health benefits of chocolate are astounding. A cup of hot chocolate every now and then is a natural way to promote your mental and physical well-being.

The Pleasures of Tea
Everywhere you turn, in print, online or television media, the health benefits of tea in all of its forms are praised.
The best teas for adding spices and other ingredients to are the black tea blends, herbal teas and Darjeeling tea – which has a mild, slightly smoky flavor, all its own. A cup of tea, anytime of day, is comforting. It is little wonder that tea, served at various times of the day, is an enduring tradition around the world.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with teas! Adding a dash of vanilla to a chai blend, a cinnamon stick, allspice berries or even infusing your black or herbal teas with lavender, rosemary, thyme, various mints, oregano, allspice berries,
a dash of nutmeg or any other culinary herb can promote relaxation and good health.

Mulled Wine or Wassail
No article on hot drinks could possibly be complete without a recipe for mulled cider or wassail. This is a favorite in England, Scandinavia, and most western European nations. It is little wonder that so many songs written in winter, give a shout-out to this perpetual favorite. As a girl, I remember having it on Christmas day and all throughout winter. It was a favorite every year and is so easy to make. You can even make it in a crock pot and let it remain on low all day. Here is what you will need for a lovely treat. Add lots of love and a roaring fire for best results.

• 4 cups apple juice or apple cider
• Whole Cloves to stud the orange slices
• 2 navel oranges – washed thoroughly. Sliced into rounds and studded with cloves.
• 1/2 teaspoon of whole allspice berries
• 10 cinnamon sticks
• 1 bottle dry red wine (or 2 extra cups of apple juice/ cider for the younger ones)
• 3 tablespoons of honey

Add the apple juice or cider and honey to a saucepan and heat throughout. Stir until the honey is fully melted and
blended. Add the allspice berries, 5 cinnamon sticks and the clove studded rounds from one of the oranges, to a
saucepan. It is important to leave the rind on the oranges. Simmer for about a half an hour. A slow steamy simmer
is all that is needed. When you see steam coming off the top, turn it down to a simmer, to avoid a full boil. Add the
bottle of DRY red wine and simmer for five more minutes. For those who prefer not to add wine, add two more cups
of apple juice or cider instead.

Before serving, strain out the allspice berries, oranges and any remaining cloves and remove cinnamon sticks.
Ladle this incredibly aromatic mulled mixture into some warmed stoneware or coffee mugs. Add a fresh cinnamon
stick and one of the clove studded orange slices before serving. The aromas of this favorite hot drink are so deliciously comforting.

It has been found that the smell of warmed cinnamon promotes a sense of well-being. Cinnamon also has been proven to help balance and regulate the blood sugar levels in our body. Cinnamon and allspice are not just for apple
or pumpkin pie. Try a dash on your hot chocolate or in your coffee too.

May the Luck of the Irish Be with You
Finally, as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, it is customary to partake of corned beef, cabbage and that deliciously dark brew known as Guinness. On the day when everyone is “Irish”, why not go all in and bring on the Bailey’s Irish Crème! It is a great companion to coffee with a little whipped cream and a dusting of green sugar. Shamrocks and green hats are optional! Blarneyor no blarney, may the “Luck of the Irish” be on our side!