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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007 11:13 pm

Winter-wonderland fare

Everybody wants cocoa and cookies, especially Santa

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I’m always a little slow waking up to the holidays. If it weren’t for Rudolph, Cindy Lou Who, and Winter Warlock, my cartoon friends for more than 30 years, I’d still be taking my Thanksgiving nap. Last week, while making dinner, I could hear the musical stylings of Burl Ives as Sam the singing snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I left my pot of curried chickpeas on the stove and walked into the other room, greeted by the red-bearded Yukon Cornelius; Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist; and the pathetic group of misfit toys left to rot on an Arctic island. (“Nobody wants a Charlie-in-the-box!”) It was a Christmas miracle, one filled with snow-monster intrigue and wintry weather that makes Santa nervous, a land of sugar and spice and everything nice where, in the end, good conquers evil and Santa doesn’t cancel Christmas after all because Rudolph’s got the goods. Forty-one years old, I’m still hooked on the stuff, and suddenly my dinner no longer seemed interesting. What I wanted, to go with my serving of winter wonderland, was a cup of hot cocoa and a plate of cookies — with a few reserved for Santa, of course.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
Spiced Hot Chocolate
From the March 2004 issue of Bon Appétit 

6 cups whole milk 3/4 cup brown sugar 15 whole cardamom pods, smashed 12 whole cloves Two cinnamon sticks Two star anise pods 3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds 3/4 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
Pour milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add sugar, all spices and red-pepper flakes. Cook over low heat, at a simmer, and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; cover and let mixture steep for about 20 minutes.
Add cocoa powder and vanilla and bring back to a simmer, whisking until blended. Strain through a sieve, leaving behind spices, and pour into mugs. Makes six servings. Recipe may be doubled.
Chocolate Pepper Cookies
Adapted from Where Flavor Was Born, by Andreas Viestad
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped 12 tablespoons (one-and-a-half sticks) unsalted butter,  
  room temperature (Earth Balance vegan shortening   works equally well) 2/3 cup fine brown sugar (pulsed for a few minutes   in the food processor) Two large eggs 2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper (or to taste) 4 ounces chopped chocolate, semisweet-chocolate chips,   or cocoa nibs Granulated sugar for rolling
Put 1 to 2 inches of water in a small saucepan and place a heatproof bowl that fits snugly on top to make a double boiler. Add chopped chocolate and melt over low heat. Remove the chocolate from the heat and allow it to cool to about 100 degrees. Using a hand mixer or a food processor, cream butter until light and airy. Add sugar and beat until completely incorporated. Add eggs, one by one, until well-combined.
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and black pepper and gradually incorporate into wet ingredients until combined. Make sure the chocolate is not too hot, or it will melt the butter in the dough. Slowly add the melted chocolate and stir in the remaining chocolate or chips or cocoa nibs. Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until the dough is cool and firm, at least 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a teaspoon, scoop the batter, roll it in granulated sugar, and drop it onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until slightly firm on outside. Cookies should be somewhat soft.
Cool on a wire rack. Makes about two dozen cookies.
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