Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review - American Heritage Hot Chocolate

It's Thanksgiving time! Turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, those mashed sweet potatoes with the marshmallows melted on top... Mmmmm.... The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony probably loved those sweet potatoes with the marshmallows on top! Ok, ok, they probably didn't have marshmallows.

Sadly, the Pilgrims didn't have chocolate, either. Reports online vary, but I've read that chocolate did not arrive in the American colonies until about 1670, when European chocolate was being sold in Boston. While Baker's Chocolate is arguably the oldest producer of chocolate in America, setting up shop in 1764, I also read that cacao beans were being imported into Boston as early as 1682. Benjamin Franklin was reportedly selling chocolate from his printing shop in 1735!

So what is this I have here? American Heritage Chocolate's Finely Grated Chocolate Drink. As I've mentioned before, chocolate was a drink long before it became an edible bar. This is hot chocolate as the colonists may have enjoyed it. It's a brand created by Mars (the folks who make M&M's and Snickers bars) using a recipe from 1750 and ingredients only available at that time in the United States.

In keeping with the theme of being historically accurate and tied to America's founders, American Heritage Chocolate is only sold at museums and historic sites here in the States. Places like George Washington's Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. In fact, Washington served chocolate to guests of Mount Vernon from 1758 until his death in 1799!

I bought mine from their website and had it shipped. If you go now, you'll notice the packaging has changed. When I got mine, it came in this cool little burlap bag. I had also purchased some chocolate sticks, and those came in a little burlap sack, too. Very cool! The new packaging is a canister. Not bad, but not as fun as the burlap bag!

But what really matters is what's in the bag.

It's not a powder mix but ground up chocolate, which is always preferable. It smells sweet and very much like cinnamon and vanilla. It's a very pleasant smell, and very different from other chocolates I've had, even though I've certainly had plenty with vanilla and cinnamon.

The instructions say to make it with water. Water always lets the real flavor of the chocolate come through, so I stuck with the instructions.

It's very good, definitely a distinct flavor, very tasty. It's easy to believe the colonials drank chocolate similar to this. Something about it feels very earthy. Maybe there's even a potpourri essence about it.

Using the amount of chocolate listed in the instructions made this a rather thin hot chocolate, and a very small portion, only about half a cup. Out of curiosity, I went ahead and made another small batch with milk instead of water.

This one was much more satisfying! Creamy and yummy, the milk was perfect with the flavors of the chocolate. While it may not be historically accurate, I much prefer it with milk.

If you're a history buff, or maybe want to bring a touch of old time charm to your Thanksgiving, this is definitely worth checking out. It's also a great hot chocolate to have on hand for Christmas!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Recipe - Easy Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

Ok, buckle up. This one is going to knock you right out of your seat! After that strawberry hot chocolate just didn't turn out to be good, I felt like I should make amends for it. And believe me, this more than makes up for it!

Salted caramel has been growing in popularity for the past few years. Even without the salt, this recipe is mind blowing! It's also one of the easiest. It came from a great recipe book I have, Hot Chocolate by Fred Thompson. The version in the book does not include the salt, however.

The easiest thing about this amazing recipe is that we don't have to make the caramel or figure out what kind of chocolate to use. Ghirardelli has done that for us! They make a huge variety of single portion chocolate squares. They're meant for snacking, but wow, do they make a good hot chocolate!


6 squares of Ghirardelli Milk & Caramel
1 cup half & half
1/4 tsp salt

Pretty easy list! You should be able to find Ghirardelli squares at almost any grocery store or drugstore.

Unwrap them and cut them all up. As always, the smaller the pieces, the faster and easier it melts. It's a little messier than our usual chocolate chopping, thanks to the gooey caramel inside.

Instead of milk, we're using half and half. Half and half is 50% milk, 50% cream. It's thicker than milk, obviously, and definitely creates a much more textured and creamy hot chocolate.

Heat up the half and half in a saucepan. Don't boil it, and keep stirring so it doesn't scald. Once you think it may be just about to boil, add in the chocolate squares. Again, because of all that caramel, it's going to be a little bit messier while you whisk it together, but eventually it all melts smoothly. 

If you decide you like caramel just fine on its own without the salt, then you are done. Grab a mug and pour!

If you're going all the way, turn off the heat and add in the salt. Once you have stirred the salt in and given it a minute or so to dissolve, taste it. 

Not salty enough? Add a little more. Too strong? Add a little more half and half.

I topped mine with a bit of homemade whipped cream and a drizzle of store-bought caramel sauce, which I found in the ice cream section of my local grocery store.

See?! Incredible, isn't it? I just had one of these, and now, looking at these pictures again as I write this, I want another. Insanely sweet and chocolaty, with the caramel and salt playing off each other just perfectly, it really is one of the best hot chocolates you can make.

I'd love to do another in the future, using homemade caramel and a great artisan dark chocolate.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Recipe - Giada De Laurentiis' Strawberry Hot Chocolate

I struggled a bit with this one. Not about making it - I was very excited to make it after seeing it on Giada De Laurentiis' daytime Food Network show Giada at Home. I took notes while watching the show, gathered the ingredients, took pictures as I went along, and finally took a sip of the completed hot chocolate.

Hmm... It wasn't that great. It was barely good.

So now what? I made this drink, my fiance had taken the time to help setup the beautiful pictures, and now this. I wanted my blog to only deliver top quality hot chocolates, the best I could find or think of, and this certainly wasn't that. I was going to scrap it.

My fiance convinced me that I should post about it anyway. So please keep reading if you saw that episode of Giada's show and thought "Wow, that sounds yummy!"

This sounded amazing when Giada made it on her show, and very healthy, as well. I think maybe that's more of what she was going for. Something healthy for the kids, something not filled with sugar and sweeteners.

Here's the ingredient list:

12 strawberries
3 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp agave
1 tbsp chopped dark chocolate

Some of these ingredients are new to the blog, so let's take a look at them.

The base in this one, rather than milk or water, is almond milk.

Almond milk typically comes in a few varieties: sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla, original, and combinations of those. Regular almond milk is made from almonds and water, with a few other minor ingredients, and it really does taste like almonds. It's pretty good. For plain drinking, I much prefer the sweetened vanilla flavor. I plan on using almond milk in the future for dairy-free hot chocolate recipes.

As a sweetener, Giada uses agave nectar. It tastes very much like honey, and has the consistency of maple syrup. Pretty good stuff, but a little research online shows that while agave is being pushed as a natural, healthy sweetener, it is anything but.

Many articles out there talk about how it is most definitely not a natural sweetener, and that the body processes it in the same way it does high fructose corn syrup. If this bothers you, definitely do some more research on it. There's tons out there.

I'm using organic strawberries from a local farmer's market. Make sure you wash them good. Rather than rinsing berries under the faucet, a better way to wash them is to put them into a large bowl and fill it with water. Swish them around in it for a minute or so, then drain. That's a much more thorough washing!

The cocoa powder I'm using is from Askinosie Chocolate. It's from beans grown in Davao in the Philippines. Askinosie makes amazing chocolate and chocolate products, and I reviewed their sipping chocolate a while back.

The dark chocolate I'm using is some 70% from Scharffen Berger Chocolate. Great stuff!

Cut all the green tops off the strawberries (discard those) and put all the ingredients into a blender. Blend until it's all liquid.

This recipe makes a lot, so if you make it, be sure and have a small pitcher or some Tupperware handy to keep the rest in. And of course, keep it refrigerated.

Pour it into a pan to heat it up. I'm only heating one serving. Don't let it boil, just get it close, and keep stirring while you heat it.

And there we go, Giada's strawberry hot chocolate. Topped with some fresh whipped cream, slices of strawberry, and chocolate shavings. What do you think? Do you agree with me, it's not that great?

With all that being said, I think this is my opportunity to begin working on a strawberry hot chocolate of my own. One that packs all the amazing chocolaty flavor it should, with tangy, sweet strawberry flavor not hiding in there, but sharing the spotlight.