Since cocktail parties have gone the way of the Dodo bird, try a hot chocolate party instead. Everybody loves it, and you're part of a long tradition—hot chocolate was reportedly served at Catholic mass in Spain ages ago. (And you thought folk mass was something?)
As a kind of prayer for the day, I end every breakfast with a square of 85 percent organic dark chocolate from Green & Black, so you know I'm not kidding when I say hot chocolate deserves to be classified as one of the world's most sensual comfort foods. Who doesn't love sitting around holding a warm cup of dark liquid delivered, it seems obvious, from heaven?
There are as many versions of hot chocolate as there are chocolate maniacs. I like Mexican for a change. Happily, there is always room for something new if your brain needs a task while you are immobile on the MRI table, or commuting. (Hmmm… what would happen if I made whipped cream and sprinkled the top with crushed chocolate-covered pretzels?)
Remember, this is pretty much a stress-free affair, made in advance, a terrific excuse to have people over. (And not to worry about your gluten-free and vegan friends. Hot chocolate is usually free of gluten, and the non-dairy folks will be grateful if you heat up an extra pot of almond milk.)
Boozy Mexican Hot Chocolate
2 cups reduced-fat (2 percent) evaporated milk
½ cup whole milk
½ cup chocolate liquer
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ancho chili powder
10 cinnamon sticks
1 dried red chile
2½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
- Whisk evaporated milk, whole milk, liquer (if using), vanilla, sugar, cocoa, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and chili powder in a heavy saucepan. Add two of the cinnamon sticks and the chile and cook gently over medium-low heat until warm. Add chocolate pieces and cook, whisking until melted. Gently bring to a high simmer; reduce heat and simmer until liquid thickens and reduces slightly, whisking often, for about 10 minutes. Combine the heavy cream with the remaining ½ teaspoon cinnamon and beat until peaks form. Ladle ⅓ cup hot cocoa into each of 8 teacups; top with 1 tablespoon whipped cream and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
(Faith's note: You can skip all this and follow the super simple recipe on packages of spicy, inexpensive Ibarra chocolate from Mexico, often found at Whole Foods, Latin markets, Citarella, and other food stores. By the way, I really do sprinkle the top of plain whipped cream with crushed dark chocolate-covered pretzels. Crazy good paired with hot chocolate.)
Jonathan's hot chocolate: Peanut Butter Cocoa
Lori's hot chocolate: Nigella Lawson Alcoholic Hot Chocolate
Chris' hot chocolate: Ovaltine
Also try Burdick's Chocolate for yet another seductive chocolaty experience.
Portobello Mushroom Po' Boys
Alex Brown and Evan George, authors of Lust for Leaf, describe themselves as "bearded, mescal-swilling Martha Stewarts." They co-write as Hot Knives at the site urbanhonking. By now you get the picture that they love food and, despite being vegetarians, have no use for rules or being hemmed in. Their recipes are original, ranging from veggie hot dogs made from scratch, to the one we're focusing on, Po' Boys. No seafood in sight.
½ pound Portobello mushrooms
1½ tablespoons olive oil
sea salt to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
¾ cup pale ale, plus 1 tablespoon
2½ cups grapeseed or canola oil for frying
6 soft hoagie buns
½ cup shredded green cabbage
¼ cup radish remoulade (recipe below)
3 teaspoons Louisiana hot sauce
- Prepare mushrooms by tearing each into strips (in half if small, into quarters if big). Put a sauté pan on high heat, add olive oil, and toss in mushroom strips. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking or stirring often, or until shrooms begin to release their liquid and some pieces start to brown. Remove and set aside to cool. (To double or triple recipe, roast shrooms for 6 minutes on a tray in a 350° oven instead of on stove.)
- Set a deep pot filled with the frying oil over a high flame. Let heat 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a fry batter by mixing the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Then add the beer slowly and whisk with a fork until creamy and wet enough to coat mushrooms. (Add tablespoon more beer if it seems too dry.)
- Batter a test shroom. Dip a mushroom strip into fry batter, shake off excess, and carefully drop into hot oil. It should immediately sizzle and brown within 30 seconds. Your oil is hot.
- Repeat with a small handful of shrooms at a time, coating them and smooshing them loosely together to form a garbled ball. Drop in the oil and flip after 15 to 20 seconds using tongs, slotted spoon, or a spider. Once golden, but not brown, fish them out, and let drip dry on paper towels.
- Wait for the shrooms to cool and relax and then drop them again for another 5 seconds to make crisp. Remove.
- Serve by opening each bun and pinching out about a teaspoon of extra bread to make room for your sprinkling of cabbage topped by the "oysters"/portobellos. Slather bread with remoulade, place shrooms and cabbage, then finish with a line of hot sauce.
2 cups veganaise
1 bunch of radishes
⅛ cup minced chives
1 tablespoon lime juice
sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon black pepper (or more if desired)
- Pop each radish off from its leafy stem and wash thoroughly in a bowl of water, then strain and pile on your cutting board. Mince the radishes one at a time as thinly as possible: slice lengthwise four times, then set two of the slices aside while stacking the remaining two, then slice this stack lengthwise again, and rotate to slice width-wise. Repeat until you have a pile of tiny radish cubes.
- Combine the radishes with veganaise, minced chives, and lime juice and stir. Crack more fresh black pepper than seems necessary and salt to taste.
Recipes from Lust for Leaf: Veggie Crowd-Pleasers to Fuel Your Picnics, Potlucks, and Ragers by Alex Brown and Evan George. Published by Da Capo Press, 2013.
- Chris Prosperi is Chef-owner of Metro Bis Restaurant in Simsbury, Connecticut.
- Alex Brown is co-author of Lust for Leaf: Veggie Crowd-Pleasers To Fuel Your Picnics, Potlucks, and Ragers.