Cook the Book: Hot Chocolate

I’ve found that this is a real treat for little ones when you use semi-sweet chocolate; grown-ups usually prefer bittersweet.

3 cups whole milk
3 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped or grated

Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it is just ready to boil.  Put the chocolate in a blender and pour in the hot milk. Allow the mixture to sit for 10-15 seconds, so the chocolate begins to melt; cover securely, place a folded towel over the lid, and blend until completely mixed and frothy, about 30 seconds. Serve with marshmallows.

Makes 3 servings.

Apple Picking – and then Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider Reduction

On these warm, sunny, fall afternoons, the girls and I walked with our bushel baskets to pick apples.  We’ve an “orchard” on our “property” which translated means I occasionally trim the trees that grow wild in the field right next to our house.  The apple crop this year is unbelievably abundant and even the organic apples are surprisingly free of bugs and disease.  We’ve spent a few carefree afternoons with the girls climbing up high in the trees to reach for the riper apples more touched by the sun and me on the ground catching what they toss.  The musty, fruity fragrance of the ripe apples and the smell of the hay and dried grass in the field brushed over us as the sun warmed our sweater-clad shoulders and the making of memories was ripe in the air.

We do this every year and it’s one of the things that marks the growth of our girls.  This year, they could both climb the trees and even my younger didn’t get scared when she was high up in the tree.  I can remember years when they just sat on the ground and picked up the apples for the compost pile.

Picking Apples

The apples grow basically wild as they get very little help from me, although this year it’s a little different as the pruning I did in the spring actually helped produce bigger, healthier apples for the first time.  We freeze some for pies later; make applesauce and apple butter for school lunches and the rest goes into cider.  Even though it’s a very busy time of year for us, we always make time to press a few bushels for apple cider.  The process of making cider has always been fun.  Watching how the ground apples actually become this murky, sweet and tart juice in the press is fascinating.  The girls helped with the capping of the bottles and we even came away with “the apple hummus” as the farmer called it.  This is essentially what’s leftover after pressing out all the juice.  It makes great compost and the chickens had a good meal or two out of it as well.

Fresh apple cider has a very short shelf life and even changes flavor over a few days.  It is possible to use cider that’s beginning to ferment, “cider that tastes like ginger ale” as Ella describes it, in your cooking such as with the below recipe.  The other possibility is to make apple juice, which is done by boiling the cider before it starts to ferment.  You’ll stop the fermentation process and your cider will last a little longer.  Lastly, you can freeze cider, which is what we did with the half gallons we got from our press.  Just be sure to drain a little bit of cider off the top so your jugs don’t burst.

Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider Reduction

2 pork tenderloins, (1 1/2 to 2 pounds total, trimmed of silver skin)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cups apple cider
1 cups apple cider vinegar
3 bay leaves
1 shallot, cut into 8ths
several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350°.  Rub the tenderloin with the salt, pepper, and paprika.  Heat the oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat.   Add the pork tenderloins and brown it on all sides.  Add the apple cider, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, shallots, and heavy cream and bring to a simmer.

Place the sauté pan in the oven and cook until the pork reaches internal temperature of is 145° for medium and 150° for medium well, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Set aside the tenderloin on a platter and cover with aluminum foil.  Return the sauté pan to the stove top and reduce the sauce in the pan over medium-high heat until it measures 3/4 cup, about 5 minutes.  Strain.

Cut the tenderloin on an angle into 1/4 to 1/2-inch slices and serve with the sauce.

Serves 4-6

Wishing you warm hearts and full bellies

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Cook the Book – Chai Tea

Chai Tea

Chai tea is an Indian drink that has become popular in coffee houses.  It’s a nice alternative to hot chocolate. I make a batch of the spice base all at once so it’s always available.

1 bag of tea (orange pekoe or your favorite)
1 teaspoon spice base (below)
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar 

In a small saucepan, bring the water, tea bag and 1 teaspoon of the spice mix to a boil; remove from heat and steep approximately 5 minutes. Add the milk and sugar; return the pan to the stove over medium-high heat and continue to heat until the liquid is hot but not boiling.  Serve immediately.

Spice base

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon or 8 sticks
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds (try to buy them without the pods.  If they are in the pods, remove the pods and measure just the seeds)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
8 whole star anise

Grind the spice base ingredients together in a food processor or spice grinder until finely ground. You can store the mixture in an airtight container for months.

Makes ½ cup spice base, 2 cups tea.

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Cook the Book – Wassail Bowl Punch

Wassail is a drink that my mom serves every Christmas and I can’t smell it without remembering family times.

Wassail Bowl Punch

1 quart hot tea (black or orange pekoe, or your favorite)
1 quart cranberry juice
1 quart apple juice
2 whole cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
1 cup sugar
¾ cup lemon juice
2 cups orange juice
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced

In a large stockpot, combine all the ingredients except the orange and lemon slices.
Bring to a boil, strain, and pour into a large bowl.
Garnish with orange and lemon slices.

Makes 4 quarts

Dream big, think positive and allow all that goodness!

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