Thursday, June 4, 2009

CHOCOLATE -- Food of the Gods!

If you have followed the BBEST thread regularly, you may have noticed that we talk a great deal about one of our favorite subjects…chocolate. I would guess that not a day goes by without some mention of chocolate. Kisses, M&M's, cookies, truffles, bars, cakes, fudge, brownies, ice cream, it’s a regular thing. We all share a love for that wonderful stuff. But chocolate is not only decadent and delicious and dreamy and soothing to the soul, it’s actually GOOD for you!
Chocolate comes from the seed of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. Theobroma means literally “food of the gods.” Cacao is native to tropical South America, grown in the lowlands, and has been cultivated for at least 3000 years. Its earliest documented use was around 1100 BC, when Mayan and Aztec peoples made it into a beverage of ground cacao seeds, which have an intense bitter taste. That first chocolate drink was nothing like modern cocoa. It was very bitter. Kudos to the person, whoever that may be, who came up with the idea of adding sugar!

The seeds of the cacao tree must be fermented to develop the flavor. After they are fermented, the beans are dried, cleaned and roasted, and the shell is removed. The remaining “nibs” of cacao are ground and liquefied, producing pure chocolate in fluid form. This is referred to as chocolate liquor. The liquor is further processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Pure, unsweetened chocolate contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Chocolate most commonly comes in dark, milk and white varieties.
Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate (sugar added) that contains milk powder or condensed milk. The dark variety has the greatest percentage of cocoa solids. White chocolate? It’s not really chocolate. It has no cocoa solids in it at all!

The makers of chocolate bars, truffles, eggs, drops, wafers and kisses are numerous. Just consider chocolate manufacturers in the U.S., and Hershey, Godiva, Ghirardelli and Whitman come to mind. Who doesn’t have fond memories of the wonderful Whitman’s Sampler? They even put a "map" on the inside of the lid to show you exactly where to find your favorite! That yellow box was a favorite of ours on holidays, and particularly on Valentine’s Day. My brothers and I would rush to get “first dibs” on the chocolate-covered cherries, the chocolate-covered caramels and the chocolate-covered marshmallows. Our parents had rather more esoteric tastes and didn’t mind so much, as long as we three didn’t eat the whole box!

Having tasted chocolate from many different domestic manufacturers, I truly think that each has its own signature flavor. My favorite happens to be Ghirardelli dark chocolate. It has a rich, fruity, smoky flavor unlike any of the others. I visited their chocolate factory when I traveled to San Francisco. A close second favorite has to be Godiva. I won’t even begin to compare Ghirardelli, Godiva or any other domestic chocolate to the chocolate made in Europe, particularly Belgian chocolate, as I have not had enough experience in this area, but I understand that it is “to die for.” It is all truly a matter of taste.

Chocolate is such a big part of our lives: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Hallowe’en, other holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, and any day when the sun comes up or goes down!

There’s nothing more wonderful than a mug of hot cocoa after traipsing through the snow to find a Christmas tree, building a snowman, or after a day on the ski slopes!

But I think that perhaps the most fabulous invention of all is the chocolate fountain. An endless river of flowing chocolate. For strawberry-dipping, ice-cream coating, or finger-licking! Pure heaven!

Now, here’s the very good news: Researchers have found that chocolate is good for you. It is believed to keep high blood pressure down, your blood flowing and your heart healthy. It contains flavinoids which are powerful anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants protect the body from aging caused by free radicals, which can cause damage that leads to heart disease. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants, nearly 8 times the number found in strawberries.

The action of flavinoids in keeping platelets in the blood from sticking together and clogging arteries is equal to that of aspirin. So flavinoid-rich cocoa and chocolate reduce the blood’s ability to clot and thus reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. Dark chocolate, since it contains a higher percentage of cocoa solids, is higher in flavinoids.

Other studies have shown that chocolate contains several bioactive compounds that promote alertness, lessen pain and promote well-being. Some of these compounds include theobromine, caffeine, tyramine and phenylethylamine, which are stimulants; tryptophan, an essential amino acid which lessens anxiety by producing serotonin; and endorphins, which are the body’s natural opiates, and which reduce sensitivity to pain.

So don’t feel bad about consuming chocolate. It’s very good for you. A small bar of dark chocolate every day can keep your heart and cardiovascular system running well by lowering your blood pressure and lowering cholesterol. Dark chocolate has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by up to 10 percent. Consuming a small bar (or truffle!) every day will reduce stress, keep you calm and promote a feeling of well-being.

So let’s get healthy. Here are a few recipes that are easy to do and will not only please your palate but your cardiovascular system as well.

(1) Chocolatey Mochaccino
1/4C hot milk
1/4C hot, strong coffee
2-3 Tablespoons Hershey’s Special Dark syrup
Whipped cream

Stir together hot milk, hot coffee and chocolate syrup in large mug or cup. Top with whipped cream. Serve immediately. One serving.

(2) Ganache Dark Fudgy Brownies
3/4C Hershey’s cocoa
1/2t baking soda
2/3C butter or margarine, melted and divided
1/2C boiling water
2C sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3C all-purpose flour
1t vanilla extract
1/4t salt
1C Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
CHOCOLATE GANACHE (recipe below)
Fresh strawberries

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease 13x9x2 inch baking pan.
Stir together cocoa and baking soda in large bowl; stir in 1/3C butter. Add boiling water, stir until mixture thickens. Stir in sugar, eggs and remaining 1/3C butter, stir until smooth. Add flour, vanilla and salt; blend completely. Stir in 1C chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake 35-40 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.
Prepare Chocolate Ganache. Pour over brownies. Refrigerate 20-30 minutes. Cut into 3-inch squares; cut squares diagonally in half to form a triangle shape. Garnish with fresh strawberries. Makes 12 brownies.

CHOCOLATE GANACHE: Place 2C (12-ounce package) Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1C whipping cream into microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at medium power (50%) for 30 seconds. Stir. If necessary, microwave an additional 30 seconds or until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth when stirred. Makes about 2C ganache.

This third recipe is absolutely delicious. I made it once, and it served about 200 people because it is SO rich that you have to cut it into very tiny squares. If you decide to try the recipe, do so at your own peril, for all of the wonderful benefits of chocolate are completely cancelled out by the butter, sugar and eggs!

(3) Mississippi Mud Cake

Cream 1 lb. butter, 4C sugar, 1C cocoa. Add 8 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one.
Add 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1 teaspoon baking powder.
Add gradually: 3C flour, 2C flaked cocoanut, 2C nuts (pieces)
Bake at 350 F in an 11" x 15" greased pan for about 40 minutes, or until a silver knife comes out clean.

Frost with the following recipe:
2/3C cocoa
2 boxes powdered Confectioner's sugar
3/4C milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
Combine and beat until smooth.


Sixsisters said...

What a mouth watering blog Nonnie. I feel healthy
just reading about chocolate, my favorite food.

Chauncey said...

Wow, Nonnie. A great post about my favorite subject, chocolate! I wish I could touch the computer screen and have one of those cadbury eggs pop out at me.

Beth said...

Great way to start my day, my mouth is salivating....great feature Nonnie

Fused Glass said...

Yummy!!! Nonnie, I've got to try your chocolate recipe for brownies!

ZudaGay said...

Oh my goodness!! I think this is my favorite blog post ever!!! Thankfully I just ate a few M & Ms

On a Whimsey said...

Oh Nonnie, I am drooling at the mouth and I have just had lunch!! A super blog... now where did I put that chocolate bar?

joon said...

Nonnie, all I can say is, it's true. I am a genius. Because I asked you to contribute again. WOW. Love this. Great recipes. I make the Hershey's Cocoa chocolate cake and frosting. Every person who has my cake/cupcakes goes bonkers. I crack up. But, we agree, no matter how many fancy recipes we've had even at top restaurants, none is as good as the old faithful.

For those of you who seek delicious chocolates...if you haven't had Sees Candies (based in CA) you NEED to. I believe they sell online now.

Thanks, Nonnie! Off to the kitchen to get healthier on chocolate.

Nonnie said...

Thanks, everybody! This was fun!!!!! (as I shove more chocolate into my mouth!)

Rose said...

This one needs to have
WARINING: Have chocolate in hand before reading!

Anitra Cameron said...

Oh, my. Been catching up on my blog reading, and as usual loving everything I see here, but CHOCOLATE!! Yup. Chocolate is the entry to comment on. My mouth is SO watering!

blazingneedles said...

GREAT POST! I KNEW it was a health food!

Judy Nolan said...

Very interesting reading! I love the recipes you added to the post. Now I'm really hungry!

Pam said...

Mmmmm! What an informative and delicious post! Thanks so much for telling us about chocolate and for the recipes! Great blogpost!