Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pretty Cups, Pounds of Chocolate

What inspires creativity in the kitchen?  Sweet potatoes from the farmer's market.  A new cookbook.  A rainy day.  Cravings.  Time.  There are as many sources as there are ways to cook an egg.  Not so long ago celebrating birthday number 27, I was given a set of beautiful, dreamy tea cups; in the time it takes to rip wrapping paper, inspiration!

It was clear to me that these little cups were meant for something special.  Something as indulgent as the golden, spiraling, dotted flowers that circled their thin rims.  Something as festive as the wintery-brilliant colors splashed on the saucers.  Something rich enough to let one tiny cup get the job done.

For me, more often than from dishware, inspiration in the kitchen comes from taking a close look at what's around.  On chilly days off from work, when you want to cook, but are also passionately committed to long underwear and slippers, creativity can be born from what's at hand in the pantry.  

Today my eyes fall on one 11 pound box of dark chocolate.  

I know this is not normal pantry fare.  I often wish on eyelashes and birthday candles and clocks at 11:11 for everyone's pantries to be heavy with pounds of chocolate.  Myself having made an investment some time ago figuring I'd benefit from chocolate on days just as today, this morning my special pantry provided just the idea for those special cups.

Hot chocolate.  Dark, excessively thick, milky hot chocolate.  Wheels still turning I see rosemary.  Really rolling now I think  caramel.  In a whir I grab bowls and milk and pots and sugar.

Wait.  Rosemary?  I know having 11 pounds of chocolate in my cupboard may imply insanity but follow me on this one.  In recent chats on navigating the path between sweet and savory Russ and I agreed that rosemary might indeed be a mighty little Magellan.  Earthy, wintery, fresh...combined with warm, nutty and sweet...tingling with the spirit of adventure that comes from new plans in the kitchen I decided it was time to test the waters.

So the rosemary set sail into a caramel.  Heating cream and steeping fresh rosemary needles in the pot I envision the herby caramel a cashmere scarf wrapped around scruffy, bearded cheeks; sweet and cozy with a hint of rustic wintry bite.

Slowly pouring the cream into a pot of caramelized hot sugar, the mixture froths wildly and fills the room with rich, herbal, sweet smelling steam.  For the hot chocolate base, boiling milk poured into a bowl of little chocolate pebbles further enhances the merry mix of scents and steam that warm the kitchen, wafting and fogging up windows.

To finish the drink I whisk the caramel into the thin chocolate ganache.  I dip a spoon into the bowl.  Inside slippers my toes are tickled.  My belly is happy.  And while my box of chocolate is a few ounces lighter, the taste test proves the experiment well worth the cocoa butter.  A fine, handsome drink for that dainty cup.

Maybe you don't have pounds of chocolate on hand.  Maybe your cups are cracked or coffee stained.  I have those too; don't worry about it.  Let this recipe inspire you to try a little cup of something delicious.  Let it give you some oohs and ahhs, some slippered-toe tickles,  and maybe let it lead you to your next great kitchen discovery (if that's the rationalization of excessive pantry chocolate stashing, all the better...)

Rosemary Caramel Hot Chocolate

For the caramel:
1 1/2 C heavy cream
2 large sprigs of rosemary, picked (about 2 T)
1 C sugar

For the chocolate base:
12 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (about 2 C)
4 C milk

1.  To make the caramel, first heat cream to a near boil.  Take cream off the heat, stir in rosemary, cover and let steep for about 5 min.
2.  Strain rosemary and reserve 1 C of cream.
3.  In a small pot, mix sugar with water (enough to make sugar feel like heavy, wet sand.  Don't stress...too much water won't hurt).  On high heat, cook until sugar reaches a beautiful, amber brown.
4.  Turn off heat.  Immediately, slowly stream in 1 C of cream.  Pour carefully- the mixture will foam up!  Stir caramel until smooth.
5.  To make the chocolate base, in a medium pot bring milk to a boil.
6.  In a large bowl, pour hot milk over chocolate.  Cover for 2 minutes without stirring.  
7.  Uncover, and whisk until mixture is smooth.
8.  Whisk in the rosemary caramel.

approx 1 qt


cia007girl said...

Hi orchid/salsa sistah! I thought I was one of the only few people who make wishes when the clock strikes those odd number combinations - i guess not :)

Olga said...

ooh, Anna already commented :)
I'd leave out caramel and rosemary, but definitely take the cups and dark chocolate!