We know social distancing means missing out on many of the things that make the winter bearable. But that’s no excuse to skip sharing a steaming cup of hot cocoa with friends or family — and this week I have a suggestion on how to do that in a safe and responsible way.
With a couple weeks remaining before Christmas, now’s the perfect time to whip up a batch of homemade hot cocoa mix, put a bow on it and mail that off to your loved ones. Once those bundles of sweet joy arrive, schedule a Zoom call and catch up while mixing and sipping away.
If you’ve never made a hot cocoa mix before, there isn’t much to it in its most basic form. It’s essentially just powdered milk, sugar and cocoa with the slightest pinch of salt. If you like spice, you can add a bit of cayenne, ancho or other chile and a dash of ground cinnamon for a flavor closer to a Mexican-style hot chocolate.
There is a simple step to punch that up into a more complex cuppa, and it’s worth the effort if you’re considering sending baggies or jars of cocoa mix as a gift.
On ExpressNews.com: See what recipes we’re creating and cooking here. Bookmark the page!
Noted food authority Alton Brown — you’ve seen him in the show “Good Eats” and countless other TV appearances — recommends toasting the powdered milk before creating your cocoa blend. Giving those crumbles a few minutes in a hot oven coaxes a malty caramel flavor out of the milk for a more dynamic sip.
Get the recipe for Alton Brown’s DIY Hot Cocoa Mix.
Once your mixture is ready and packed into festive gift containers of some sort, you can up the ante by packaging it with a fun mug — this is totally the right time for a cheesy cup featuring a photo of the Alamo if you’re shipping it off to folks who won’t be able to visit home this year — and some marshmallows and peppermint sticks.
Because the mix already contains evaporated milk, all you’ll need to prepare a cup of cocoa is hot water. But you don’t have to stop there.
A splash of whiskey or amaretto added to the mug will turn your Zoom call into a holiday happy hour. If you really want to get crazy, consider trying another adult twist on cocoa that’s become popular in recent years — red wine hot chocolate — by mixing two parts cocoa to one part red wine.
On ExpressNews.com: 6 recipes for homemade hot chocolate this cocoa season
We know it’s not the same as cozying up by a fireplace with your favorite person, but it’s the next best thing. And this year, that’s a gift in its own right.
If you’re craving more substantial comfort, I recently dove into the wonderful world of Midwestern cuisine. Give any of the following recipes a try if you need the warm embrace of comforting carbs as the temperatures drop across South Texas.
Recipe: Tater Tot Hotdish
Recipe: Spaghetti Pie
Recipe: Iowa Ham Balls
Recipe: Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole
Paul Stephen is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Paul, become a subscriber. [email protected] | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen