Category Archives: beverages

Rich and Spicy Hot Cocoa

Yes, we are going to “spring forward” tomorrow. And the vernal equinox is just two weeks away. But the little crocuses blooming in my planter boxes can not drive away the winter chill. Earlier today at my house in West Seattle (very near the highest point in the city) it snowed for a few hours, though thankfully now all evidence is already gone. 

So regardless of what the calendar may say, it’s definitely been more like hot chocolate season than the cusp of springtime might usually propose.

A few weeks ago, just before Valentine’s Day, I received a little box from Lisa Dupar, owner of Pomegranate Bistro, with a homemade heart-shaped marshmallow accompanying a small bag of the restaurant’s signature hot cocoa mix. It’s what I’ve been warming myself with as an occasional afternoon treat these past few weeks, whisking a couple tablespoons of the mix into warm milk (enriched with a splash of half-and-half when I had part of a pint sitting in the fridge, even better!).

I’m typically not a bit fan of commercial hot chocolate, so often sweet and cloying, seldom letting the character of the chocolate come through. While I was working for Patricia Wells in Paris 15-plus years ago, one of my tasks was researching the hot chocolate spots in town. Granted, in Paris that was a pretty fantastic assignment! I remember the chocolat chaud at Angelina’s as being so thick and rich it was more like a crème anglaise sauce than a beverage. Delicious but not my, um, cup of tea.

This batch from Pomegranate, however, has a lovely chocolate character without being too sweet. And the surprising zing of spice from cayenne livens things up, emphasizing the toasty, nutty character of the chocolate. An uncommon afternoon pick-me-up.

Spicy Hot Cocoa Mix

(from Pomegranate Bistro)

1 cup milk, soy milk or almond milk

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or regular granulated sugar)

1 teaspoon cayenne or ancho chile powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pour the milk into a small saucepan and warm over medium heat. Whisk in the remaining ingredients once the milk is hot (but not boiling). Take the pan from the heat and let sit 2 minutes before serving.

You can do as Lisa did for the Valentine’s treat and pre-mix the dry ingredients in bulk and keep on hand for a shortcut cocoa to make at whim. If you use 3/4 cup each of cocoa and sugar, 2 tablespoons chile powder (less, to suit your taste, this would be spicy!), and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon — you should have enough mix for 6 cups of cocoa.

Just the thing to tide us over until all those spring blooms kick in and winter really does slip away.

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Drinking Dry: New Flavors

Seattle-based Dry Soda took the soda category to new levels when they launched in 2005. Not just about quenching thirst in a new way, these beverages were developed with the meal time in mind. With just a touch of sweetness (from pure cane sugar) and non-traditional flavors–kumquat, lavender, rhubarb and lemongrass–the drinks have a culinary flair that can be perfectly at home on even the most elegant dinner table. I still remember what a big splash the sodas made when they were released; in no time restaurant menus featured them alongside other select beverage options on their menu.

So, I was intrigued to hear about two new flavors having just been launched: juniper and vanilla. Which sounded, at first blush, like even edgier choices! Those juniper berries are pretty intense in flavor, almost resin-y and vanilla can quickly become cloying. Dry Soda fan and celebrated Seattle chef Jason Wilson, owner of Crush, collaborated on development of the new flavors and honed the flavors in an elegant fashion.

The juniper soda is very gentle in flavor. In fact, the lingering element is onejuniper_berry_flavor_shot2 of rather nondescript herbal character and doesn’t cry out “juniper,” which will make it widely appealing, I imagine. And super adaptable to different types of foods. I can see drinking lots of this one!

That first sip of the vanilla soda was loaded with nostalgia. It tasted, to me, every bit like cream soda–without the overload of sugar. Vanilla is one of those flavors I run hot-and-cold on. I love it in ice cream, of course, and pretty much any sweet setting, but I really can’t tolerate vanilla sauce on my scallops or in my salad dressing. In this soda, the vanilla flavor is really well balanced, aromatic, pure. For my own taste, not quite as universally sippable as the juniper is. But that’s the nature of my anti-sweet-tooth which will always prefer savory to sweet.

These distinctive sodas are now available across most of the U.S. and Canada. The web site has some great recipes from chefs paired to individual sodas, as well as cocktail recipes using the sodas. Soda for grown-ups, with distinctive, delicious flavors and without the hype and in-your-face marketing. Imagine. What a treat it is.

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