You learn at a pretty young age that in order to survive a Canadian winter you need at least two things:
A good attitude and a great pair of long johns.
I like to take my cue from the Buddhists who tell us that everything originates in the mind. Change your mind, change the experience.
Here's how it works:
Those early morning walks with the dog in -34 C wind chill? Not brutal at all. Invigorating.
The sun setting in the middle of the afternoon? Not the least bit depressing. Cozy.
Those three hour stints shoveling ice and snow from November through March? Not backbreaking in the slightest. Fortifying.
See what I did there?
And when all else fails, there's always a warming cup of goodness to cheer us up.
My youngest discovered Starbucks' peppermint hot chocolate just before the holidays (and is quite a fan) so when he had the day off from school last Friday, I decided to surprise him with a homespun version. This hot chocolate is made from natural ingredients and contains about 75% less sugar than the Starbucks classic (just saying).
75% cocoa chocolate contains very little sugar and its saturated fat content is largely comprised of stearic acid - a type of fat the has not been shown to raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. Another portion of dark chocolate's fat content is comprised of oleic acid - a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, a phytochemical with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties. Research suggests that flavonoids may help protect our hearts by lowering blood pressure and reducing LDL cholesterol levels.
In fact, researchers from Harvard Medical School recently conducted a meta-analysis of 24 studies that involved over 1,000 participants and found that drinking hot chocolate made from dark chocolate is associated with reduced blood pressure, improved blood vessel health, lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol and elevating HDL ("good") cholesterol.
And here's something else. Regular consumption of dark chocolate has been shown to improve the body's use of insulin (the hormone that regulates fat storage). A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Diego, showed that adults who ate chocolate more frequently had a lower BMI than those who consumed less, despite eating more overall calories. In fact, BMI was one point lower among those who indulged five times per week compared to those who did not consume chocolate at all. Researchers suspect that the flavonoid 'epicatechin' found in dark chocolate may help explain the lower body weight finding but more research is needed to establish this link. In animals, epicatechin has been shown to boost metabolism, increase muscle mass and reduce weight without changing calories or exercise.
I'll drink to that!
Naturally Flavoured Peppermint Hot Chocolate
- 500 ml (16 fluid oz) milk or milk alternative of choice + extra milk for frothing
- 40 grams (1.5 oz/4 squares) of quality 75% cocoa chocolate, broken into pieces
- 1/2 tsp natural vanilla extract
- 1 tsp pure peppermint extract
- Optional: 1 tsp honey
- Fresh mint leaves for garnish
This recipe will make one 16 fl ounce mug of peppermint hot chocolate or two 8 ounce mugs, as desired.
If you don't own a milk frother, I strongly encourage you to think about getting one. I have been using a milk frother for over 20 years now and would be completely lost without it (I even bring my milk frother on the road with me, as sad as that sounds).
Frothing milk is a great way to add foam and body to your drinks without going the whipped cream route (although that also has its place). For day to day though, milk frothing is the way to go.
If you do decide to purchase a frother (they come in all types and prices), I highly recommend you invest in a manual (not electric or battery operated) stainless steel one because glass frothers can and do eventually break (that's 20+ years experience with milk frothers...). The stainless steel varieties will cost you more up front but you will be very happy with your investment.
Warm milk in a saucepan over low-medium heat until it is hot to the touch but has not yet reached the boiling point - (you may hear hissing as the milk starts to steam and get nice and hot). Remove from heat and add vanilla and peppermint to the pot of milk, stirring to combine.
Meanwhile, in a separate small pot on stove, heat chocolate over lowest temperature possible, stirring to facilitate melting. Remove chocolate from heat as soon as it has melted.
I have never used a double boiler system to melt chocolate. If you melt chocolate at a very low temperature and watch it carefully, you should be fine.
Add melted chocolate to the pot of peppermint milk and whisk to thoroughly combine. At this point you can taste the peppermint hot chocolate and make flavouring adjustments as desired. Pour peppermint hot chocolate into a singular mug or divide between two mugs, as desired.
Meanwhile, using a milk frother, froth about 4 fluid ounces of milk. Transfer frothed milk to a microwave safe jar (the jar should be big enough to hold 16 fluid ounces) and heat for approximately 35 seconds or until frothed milk rises to about double its size (a thing of beauty). Carefully remove jar from microwave and pour warmed frothed milk over peppermint hot chocolate.
Using a spoon, swirl the frothed milk in with the hot chocolate and add any remaining drips of melted chocolate from the pot to the top of the mug for decoration. Garnish with a mint leaf or two.
Enjoy and Stay Warm!