coconut milk

Vegan Hot Cocao with Clementine

The best hot chocolate I've ever had was on a class trip to Madrid, Spain back in 2004. The trip was a whirl-wind experience, soaking up as much culture, and visiting as many sites as we could see in the 10 days we were there. One very found memory I have was the night one of our teachers took our group to a small little cafe, tucked in the winding streets of Madrid. Oh, how I wish I could remember that name of place; I'd be sure to go back if I visit Spain again.

Their specialty was churro con chocolaté. The warm chocolate drink was nothing of the thin, watery hot chocolate of my childhood; this was a thick, dark and bitter concoction, essentially a drinkable ganache you could dunk the churros in. It was amazing. It was likely what turned me into a dark chocolate lover. For me, the darker the better; I love the rich and complex flavor of bitter dark chocolate.

My Hot Cocao with Clementine recipe is an homage to the flavors of that Spanish treat. My version is much lighter; not the ganache-like consistency I had, but it does have that complex and bitter chocolate flavor which I brighten up with a squeeze of clementine. Perfect for vegans, or anyone trying to avoid dairy; it's topped up with a whipped coconut cream.

Today is Day 2 of my little snow-day vacation. Framingham, MA got HAMMERED by Winter Storm Juno. The news reported my hometown got 33.5" of snow between late Monday night and early Wednesday morning. This blizzard is sure to be one I tell our children about one day. I got lucky; my office has been shut down for the second day in a row. I'm happy I had the time to kick back yesterday, because today was dedicated to the clean up. My car was buried in snow, and the task of unearthing it made me miserable. Our house has a garage, but it is so full of tools and junk there is no room for my car, which means, of course, a ton of work for me.

It was grueling, annoying, and a workout; but I did it. I dug out my car, cleaned it off and it'll be ready to hit the road to work tomorrow morning. After being in the cold for so long my bones were aching for something warm. My 2nd favorite hot beverage, after coffee, is hot chocolate. When I was little, making a good hot chocolate was all about adding some Swiss Miss into warmed milk (instead of water) for a creamy and comforting treat. In the past couple of years, I've reduced the amount of dairy I consume. I first made the decision to drink more dairy-free milks, like almond milk, because I was looking for a way to cut calories, but I eventually realized, when I'd drink regular milk, the dairy free versions were much gentler on my stomach. It seemed to make a lot of sense, considering my parents switched me to soy formula as a baby, because I was quite colicey. Anyway, happy with my dairy-free milk, its proven to be a great base for hot chocolate.

Now, I must call attention to the fact this is hot "cocao" not hot "cocoa". Raw cacao powder is unadulterated and contains many more nutrients than traditional cocoa powder. Pure, unsweetened cocoa powder tastes very bitter and rich, which is why it is most often used in sweets and confections. For more differences check out One Green Plant's article. I wouldn't say cocoa powder is worse than cocao, but the raw cocao powder was going to give me the flavor profile I wanted.

To get my hot treat going I added 1 1/2 tbs of the cocao powder to the almond milk along with a tbs of honey and a dash of cinnamon. I use cinnamon all the time, I love the flavor and how it adds extra warmth to a dish. Cocao powder doesn't dissolve as easily as the powder from a hot chocolate mix, so you need to whisk the mixture as it warms over the stove top. The thing that takes this next level is clementine. Orange and dark chocolate have long been a classic combination (one I've usually hated). There was nothing worse, as a kid, to bit into a piece of chocolate to realize it was orange flavored. What I've come to realize, is that it wasn't so much the fruit mixed with the chocolate as much as it was the artificiality of the orange flavor... it always overpowered the chocolate in the candies I had. With orange being a classic flavor in churros, and a big box of clementines sitting on my counter tops, I sliced one in half and squeezed in the juice at the very end of my hot chocolate being ready. Come to think of it Grand Marnier would be fantastic in this, but I'm still committed to #DryJanuary.

The best part of any hot chocolate is, of course the whipped topping. I love whipped cream. Any excuse I have to make it, I will. Nothing impresses people more as when I take out a chilled bowl, my biggest whisk, and whip it up by hand. Great upper body workout. I've seen and heard great things about whipped coconut cream, and had to try it for myself. I can attest that it is every bit as satisfying as the "real" stuff.

To make the coconut whipped cream, you have to chill a can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge for at least an hour. This will ensure the cream separates from the liquid. After that, you prepare just as you would a standard whipped cream. Place the coconut cream in your stand mixer with a sweetener like coconut sugar or honey along with the vanilla extract. With the whisk attachment beat on high until it is whipped. Because coconut cream is more dense than dairy cream, it won't be as airy, but it will certainly be as creamy and delicious.

Before assembling, I blitzed my hot cocao mix in my blender with two or three pulses. With the whisking I did, it probably didn't need it but I wanted to ensure that all the ingredients were incorporated and the drink was frothy. Feel free to omit that step in interest of getting to drink it. Fill your favorite mug and top off with a heaping helping of whipped coconut cream and sprinkle on some extra cinnamon and clementine zest for good measure.

Ingredients

Hot Cocao

  • 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk (or another dairy-free substitute like light coconut milk, hemp or soy milk)
  • 1 1/2 tbs unsweetened cocao powder (not cocao powder)
  • 1 tbs honey (I'm aware that some vegans wouldn't consider honey vegan, so you can substitute that easily with agave nectar or maple syrup)
  • Juice of half clementine
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Coconut Whip Cream

  • 1 16oz can of coconut milk, chilled (you must use the full fat version)
  • 1 tbs sweetener such as coconut sugar, agave or honey
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Hot Cocao

  • Pour almond milk into sauce pan over medium heat.
  • Add cocao powder, honey (or other sweetener) and cinnamon.
  • Use a whisk to incorporate the cocao powder with almond milk. It will take some time, as it doesn't instantly dissolve.
  • You want to get the hot cocao up to approximately 112 degrees, carefully not to let come to a boil. You don't want to scald the almond milk.
  • Right before taking cocao off the heat, squeeze in the juice of half a clementine (you can add the juice of a whole clementine if you'd like, or just snack on it on the side).
  • (optional) Blitz mixture in a blender for a few seconds to get frothier and ensure all flavors are incorporated. You can also achieve this if you whisked the mixture on the stove.

Coconut Whipped Cream

  • Allow can of coconut milk to chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  • After opening, use a spoon to carefully scoop out the thick coconut cream off the top. Below this layer is a clear/slightly cloudy liquid you can reserve for other purposes (like a smoothie)
  • Add coconut cream to a stand mixture with whisk attachment and beat as you would with regular cream.
  • Add vanilla extract and coconut sugar (or some other sugar substitute).
  • Continue to mix on high until you get a whipped cream texture.

Notes

*I've made a lot of true whipped creams in my time and found the coconut cream, because it is more dense to begin with, does not become as light and airy as your standard, dairy based whipped cream.

That said, it had excellent flavor and the texture (while thicker) was the perfect touch to this hot chocolate.

Saffron Butternut Squash Soup

I can't say enough good thing about squash. They are a great source of anti-oxidants, vitamin C, Omega-3s, helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and overall promotes optimal health...and they are really delicious. It's sort of funny, but the first time I ever tried squash was this year through the farm I was a part of. Squash comes in many varieties from summer squash like zucchini to winter varieties (my favorite) including butternut, delicata, and spaghetti squash. Squash is a must add to your grocery list. If you are new to squash or have picky eaters at home, soup is the perfect vehicle to introduce this wonderful vegetable. This recipe particular recipe will warm your soul during cold fall and winter days and is very easy to prepare.

I usually get pretty excited when I see squash soup on a menu when I go out to dinner, but the few times I've ordered it I've been disappointed. In my quest to eat healthier, I cut out extra calories where I can. Each time I've ordered butternut soup this year its always made with a ton of extra cream. It absolutely drives me crazy, because you don't need to use heavy cream/milk to make a great squash soup. I've enjoyed many soups that don't have a drop of cream that are silky smooth and delicious.

I do agree that cream can help balance out flavors but its really high in calories and fat - and there are plenty of great subsitutes. I'm using unsweetened coconut milk in this soup. It will help give the soup that silky texture, without all the fat and calories.

The flavor of coconut can be really polarizing. But let me say that the flavor of both the coconut milk and the coconut oil the recipe calls for is extremely mild. If you absolutely abhor coconut (or are allegric) subtitute with almond milk and another oil. Believe me, the coconut milk this recipe calls for is NOT what you are accustom to having in a Pina Colada, nor will it taste like sun tan lotion. The slight coconut flavor from these ingredients really pairs so well with the rich spices we're using. You have to trust me on this one.

Spices play an important role in this recipe; the star, saffron. Saffron is one of the most expensive food items by weight. Each thread-like strand of saffron come from the stamen of a crocus. Since each flower only has three stamens, it takes an acre of crocus crop to yield one pound of the stuff! Thankfully, a little goes a long way and you should be able to get a small jar relatively cheap. I've seen it from Trader Joe's for about $12. For this recipe I used saffron that my brother brought home for me from Spain (where saffron is most commonly cultivated and sold). The flavor of saffron is very unique - and hard to describe. It's very floral and you can get immense flavor from just a few strands. I've made the mistake of adding too much to a dish and it was very over-powering. For this recipe I only used about a quarter of that little pile you see in the picture below.

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While saffron makes this dish special, the soup wouldn't be complete without a few other friends like paprika, cumin, coriander, curry and white pepper. Paprika was the most obvious accomponiate to the saffron, because its also a Spanish spice. You can buy sweet or smoked paprika, either will do in this dish. Contrary to what some may think, paprika is not spicy so you can use it liberally. This dish only needs a tablespoon. Next, I added cumin, which will give a smokey heat to the dish. The cumin is what really makes this soup so comforting and warming on a cold New England day. In lesser amounts I also added some coriander and curry. Neither is absolutely necessary, but I felt it really rounded out the flavors. I choose white pepper over traditional black pepper just for looks (so if you don't have it, use regular pepper).

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The toughest part to this recipe is preparing the squash. You will need a good vegetable peeler, sharp knife, and a bit of muscle. Can a half inch from the bottom and top of the squash first. Next, peel the skin off. Because you've cut the bottom you can stand the squash upright to stabilize it. After its peeled, use a heavy chef's knife to cut it in half the long way. Use a large spoon to pull out the seeds (you can clean and roast these just like pumpkin seeds if you like). Finally, dice into one inch cubes.

The onion and garlic will be much easier to handle. Simply peel and quarter the onion, and add it to your bowl of squash. The garlic gloves can be tossed in whole (to help avoid burning) after they have been peeled as well.

I haven't met a vegetable that doesn't like roasting. I think the way these veggies are prepared for the soup make it extra flavorful. Many soup recipes I see simply call for sauteeing or steaming the vegetables, but I love the carmelization that happens during roasting. The only downside is that you tend to loose more nutriets roasting than steaming, but the flavor is phenomenal. I roast the vegetables with the dry spices (not the saffron yet) to help bring out their aromatics.

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A key part of roasting your vegetables is choosing your oil. When it comes to healthy eating there are definatley oils to avoid (canola/vegetable), so I normally stick to olive oil or grapeseed oil. However, I've recently started using coconut oil in my cooking and I really love it. Virgin coconut oil is a healthy saturated fat. When you buy it, it actually is in a solid state, it doesnt turn to liquid until its warmed up. What makes coconut oil so amazing is that it can handle higher tempatures and safely convert from a solid to liquid state and back, without breaking down. The reason to be concerned about overheating oils is because as an oil exceeds its burning point, it starts to break down and they turn into a carcinogen (cancer causing agents).

You will have to warm up the jar in the microwave to covert to a liquid before measuring out the tablespoon for this recipe. Just make sure the cover is off and you don't put any metal in the microwave. Toss the chopped veggies, spices (except saffron) and oil in a bowl to coat evenly and spread out a baking sheet. Add a few pinches of salt to everything. Roast in a 400° oven for 25-30 minutes, turning occasionally, until the butternut squash is fork tender.

When the veggies are done recipe. Start working on the broth. Pour the coconut milk into a large pot (big enough to hold all the roasted veggies) and turn onto medium heat. Add the saffron strands. I waited to add saffron until this point, because it would have burnt in the oven. Instead, I add them to the milk so the flavors bloom. You will see the white coconut milk turn yellow. You only need to wait a minute or so and you can go ahead and add the vegetables to you pot.

Blend with an immersion blender*. Slowly add the vegetable broth. You may not need all two cups so add it slowly until you reach the desired consitency. If the soup is still too thick, you can add a bit more liquid either from the coconut milk or vegetable broth. Turn to low, and let the soup cook another 15 mins before serving to allow the flavors to mellow.

*If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender. Just make sure it was made for hot liquids and hold a towel over the top in case it explodes. Return the soup to the pot after blending to allow to simmer as above. Finally, taste and season with salt, as needed. I like to leave that until the last step once you can try all the flavors together.

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Serve the soup with a dollop of sour cream, greek yogurt, or a drizzle of olive oil.

Ingredients

  • One butternut squash, peeled and chopped into cubes (about 6-8 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tbs virgin coconut oil
  • 2.5 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 tbs paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • salt & pepper for seasoning

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400°
  • Peel butternut squash. Cut in half, remove seeds and chop into one inch cubes.
  • Peel and quarter one medium onion. Peel 2 garlic cloves.
  • Place butternut squash, onion and garlic into mixing bowl. Warm up virgin coconut oil (if in solid form) and add 1 tbs to the vegetables. Add in paprika, cumin, coriander, curry and 1 tsp salt. Toss to coat evenly. (Do not add in the saffron at this time).
  • Lay vegetables on baking sheet and place in oven for 25-35 mins until the squash is fork tender. Turn vegetables half way through so they caramelize and cook evenly.
  • Once you pull roasted vegetables out of the oven, start warming the coconut milk over medium heat in a large pot. Add the saffron to let steep. The white coconut milk will turn yellow. After waiting a minute for the saffron to steep, add in all the roasted vegetables plus any liquids from roasting. Use an immersion blender to start pureeing into a soup (if you do not have an immersion blender, transfer into a regular blender safe for hot liquids). Add 1-2 cups of vegetable stock until you reach the desired consistency. If full 2 cups of vegetable stock isn't enough, add more coconut milk or stock based on your preferences.
  • Let soup simmer on low another 10-15 minutes to full absorb saffron flavor. Add extra salt to taste as needed.
  • Serve with a dollop of sour cream, greek yogurt or drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Nutritional Information*

Serving size: 1.5 cups

Calories: 157, Carbs: 22g, Fat: 7g, Protein: 3g, Sugar: 8g