Sunday, November 26, 2006

Holiday spice love

What is it about the holiday season that awakens the desire to bake? I know it is not exclusively the cold weather. We are experiencing a major heat wave here in Chicago. 60 degrees! It was so warm yesterday that Gimi and I took out his motorcycle. We went downtown, strolled through the Christmas open air market, and stopped to investigate a new exhibit of an outdoor installation piece that I will henceforth call "The Legs". Actually, it was incredibly interesting, a wonderful example that things that look the same at first glance can have subtle differences that make each piece beautifully unique. We plan to return when it snows to see how the change in environment impacts your perception of the art. But I digress. On the way home Gimi was sweet enough to indulge me and we stopped at The Spice House before returning to my house. It was warm enough outside that I was not wearing a coat despite riding on the back of a bike along Lake Shore Drive. Yet there I was buying ground ginger and choosing the right cinnamon for my baking needs.

The Spice House carries five different varieties of cinnamon. This was an eye opening experience for me. I always thought cinnamon was cinnamon. How wrong I was! Some are spicier, while others are sweeter. One is pungent, another is mellow. After many minutes of sniff testing the lot, I settled on the strongly spicy, sweet variety Korintje Indonesian Cinnamon. Want to learn more about cinnamon and the difference between cinnamon and cassia? Clickety-click here. (Wow, I never knew most cinnamon isn't really cinnamon at all. You learn something new every day!)

Spices in hand, we returned home to indulge in the quintessential winter drink, hot cocoa. I have always loved hot chocolate. How could you not? A warm, drinkable version of one of life's greatest pleasures. Chocolate! When I was first diagnosed with Celiac I had a moment or two of panic over the fact that most of my beloved hot cocoa mixes were laden with gluten. What was I to do? Research. Experimentation. I tried the hot cocoa mix from The Spice House. It was nice, but not nearly sweet enough. My own recipe was developed. A trip to Trader Joe's ensued. How can you make GF hot cocoa without some GF cocoa powder? Yikes! That stuff is not cheap. Ah well, it is for a good cause. I found many recipes online. After much reading, I decided to modify a recipe from Alton Brown. Rich cocoa, lots of sweetness, and a bit of spice. It is still a work in progress, but this is what I have developed thus far:

Diva's Divine Hot Cocoa

Sift together:
1 cup cocoa powder
2-2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 t. cinnamon

To make a cup:
Whisk together 1/4 cup hot water and a few drops of vanilla, with three heaping t. of cocoa mix. Blend until mix is dissolved. Top with 3/4 cup of milk. Heat to desired temp (do not boil!) Garnish with whipped cream.

I am almost out of my mix. I need to make more. I am thinking of adding some chili powder and almond extract. A fake version of Mexican hot chocolate. Ooh! Or I could make it "plain" and use it for my fantastic Chocolate Mint Tea. (Steep a bag of mint tea in hot milk before adding the hot cocoa mix.)

After the hot cocoa break and some bumming around the apartment, I started my Christmas decorating. Yes, I am a crazy Christmas person. I love this holiday. It makes me warm and fuzzy. The music, the lights, the family and friends. I love it all. I am not yet finished, but have made great headway. The tree is up, my wreath is made, and garland adorns the doorway.

Kitty in the tree.

Baking is the next logical step. I need to put that new cinnamon to the test. I have a bag of Gluten Free Pantry bread mix in my cupboard. Perhaps an experiment with Cinnamon Raisin Bread is in order. This time I will need to bake it in two pans instead of one. There was an overflow issue the last time around.

Oh. I added a list of my cookbooks to the blog. I am always looking for new additions. What cookbooks do you have that you can't live without?


cybercasey said...

Well the holidays are coming and everyone is looking for ways to make their celebrations a grand one....and everyone is lookinf for cool new recipes too...well hey i've also posted a couple of holiday recipes ovet at my Holiday Blog so visit it sometime for all the great resources....have a great time during the holidays!!!!

Erielle said...

That's fascinating about the different types of cinnamon. So at the Spice House, you had to choose which kind you wanted by sniffing it? It's too bad you can't taste samples there.

Someday you should buy all 5 varieties and taste them all in a row. Can you buy very small amounts of each one?

I have only been to the Spice House once because parking is so hard to find. But I bet it's easier on a motorcycle!

Shannon said...


Actually, you can taste test. I just stuck with sniffing. (I love cinnamon in recipes, not so much tasting it straight up.) You can purchase one oz or even 1/2 oz baggies of all their spices.

Yeah, parking is a pain. The bike was awesome. We parked right out front. :)