It's hard to say nice things about Chicago in the winter. It's cold. Like really cold. And it can leave you feeling cooped up and crazy. But the one undeniably wonderful thing about the endless frosty days is the nostalgia it brings. The memories of warming up over a snack — hard earned after a long day sledding (or just some heavy-duty reading in PJs) — gives you a way to escape the claustrophobia and find some inspiration in the kitchen.
And for us, there's just one way to do this: Grown-up tater tots with hot cocoa and homemade marshmallows.
Of all our fondly remembered childhood snacks, tater tots and hot cocoa are our mutual favorites. Why this combination fell into both of our mother's kitchen repertoires is beyond us (probably has something to do with the ubiquity of Swiss Miss and our then-picky eating habits), but trying it as grown-ups has kept us hooked.
The savory roasted potatoes takes the saccharine edge off of a steaming cup of marshmallowy chocolate, while the creamy cocoa preps your palate for the tots' cozy, carby crunch.
While we'd never judge you for opening a bag and relishing in the nostalgia of a more processed snack, the only improvement we've been able to make on our childhood fave is an updated tater tot. Not only does it taste better, but it helps pass the time on an otherwise boring, snowy day.
These tots aren't just good for when it's cold and gross. They are a great, easy-to-portion side for entertaining and make a formulaic weeknight protein-carb-veg dinner a little bit more special.
Grown Up Tater-Tots
Serves 2 to 3
small potatoes, like baby Yukon Golds or fingerlings
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Italian parsley, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Thoroughly scrub the potatoes and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until they are tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not browned. Let the potatoes rest for 10 minutes or until they are cool enough to handle.
Turn the oven up to 450°F. Using the bottom of a plate, a sturdy rocks glass, or measuring cup, smash the potatoes with firm, downward pressure. Squish each potato to about 3/4-inch thick. They will crack and split, but they should, for the most part, stay in one piece.
Brush or drizzle generously with olive oil, sprinkle with minced garlic, and place back in the oven. Bake until crispy and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley, and try not to eat the whole pan by yourself.
Once you have your pan of tater tots, pair 'em up with some hot cocoa and homemade marshmallows. Like all good recipes, our hot cocoa is flexible. Keep the ratios generally the same and don't be afraid to add in a pinch of this or that. Swap the chocolate for a spoon of peanut butter, caramelize the sugar in the pan before serving, or add pinch of cayenne pepper if you're feeling particularly festive. Or just stick with whiskey.
Marshmallows are a party trick we like to keep in our back pocket when we want to make a big impression without breaking a sweat. They aren't hard but the perfect, tender, vanilla-y clouds seem like witchcraft to anyone who wasn't in the kitchen when it all went down. That said: they are goopy and, unless you want to find sticky nonsense on your cabinets for the next six months, a little smart preparation goes a long way. Read through the instructions once or twice to make sure you're set up for success.