When I win the lottery, one of my promises to myself is to have fresh flowers delivered weekly. I'll probably take that long-awaited trip to Venice and buy myself a brand-new red Jaguar then, too. In the meantime, my annual Valentine's Day fantasy is to receive some scrumptious chocolate delight from a loved one. It doesn't have to be from a lover or husband - a son, grandchild or good friend will do - as long as they translate their Feb. 14 expressions of love into chocolate, preferably the dark kind ... with nuts!
Believe it or not, chocolate is reported to contain the same chemical - phenylethylamine or phenylaline - that is produced in our brains when we are falling in love. In fact, chocolate can generate the same emotional "high" as do amphetamines. And while chocolate can be a "love booster" by stirring our emotions chemically, as with other artificially produced reactions, the euphoric feeling from chocolate is short-lived. Moreover, chocolate can be as addictive as love. All that said, I'll take a great piece of chocolate over a bad date any day ... and work off the calories later!
All kidding aside, experience and studies show that vitamins C, E and certain antioxidants definitely provide health advantages. Besides tomatoes, wine, tea and berries, dark chocolate is one consistently delicious source for these healthy nutrients. Even Dr. Oz has endorsed dark chocolate as his preferred dessert for health-conscious people. So, this year, why not woo your favorite valentine with something dark chocolate-y, sans the guilt? You can offer your sweetie some health benefits, delectable flavors, a taste of romance and a little "love buzz" all in one. Makes red roses and a card sound like the long way around to your foodie's heart, doesn't it?
Here are a couple of tested recipes, sure to make someone profess their love back to you. Fair Warning: Indulge Responsibly!
Jacqui lives in Danville with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kahlua Chocolate-Covered Strawberries (makes about 1 cup dipping sauce)
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate pieces
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup Kahlua
2-3 pints fresh and firm strawberries
1. In top of double boiler, melt chocolate over simmering water.
2. Add milk; remove from heat. Add Kahlua; whisk until smooth.
3. Cool until thickened, about 1 hour. Wash, drain and dry strawberries; hand dip in sauce.
4. Dipped strawberries may be chilled, up to 4 hours. Or, hand dip them for your valentine in a romantic moment!
Chocolate Ganache Cake (serves 6)
Note: Chocolate ganache is heavy cream and chocolate heated over a double boiler.
1/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 16-oz can Hershey's chocolate syrup
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
For the ganache:
1/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz. good semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp instant coffee granules
For the instant Crème Anglaise:
1 pint Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan (even better, if it's heart-shaped!), then line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy, using the paddle attachment. Lower the speed and add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each egg. Mix in the chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Don't over beat, or the cake will be tough.
3. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until just set in the middle. Don't over bake. Let cool thoroughly in the pan.
4. For the ganache: Heat the heavy cream, chocolate chips and instant coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water just until the chocolate melts and the ganache is smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Remove the mixture from the heat as soon as the chocolate melts to avoid any burnt taste.
5. Place the cake upside down on a wire rack and pour the warm glaze evenly over the top, covering the entire top and sides. (Hint: Tilt the rack to smooth the glaze, as needed.) Transfer the cake to a serving plate. (Hint: You can make the cake 1-2 days in advance, cool, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Don't refrigerate the cake after it is glazed.)
6. For the Crème Anglaise: Place the ice cream in the refrigerator until completely melted. Serve as a cold sauce on a dessert plate with a slice of cake on top.
Meringue Laced with Chocolate and Berries (for 4)
For the meringue:
2 large egg whites
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/8 cup sugar
For the Topping:
1/8 cup semi-sweet dark chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons water
1 cup each, fresh blueberries and raspberries
Mint sprigs (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. To prepare meringue, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw a 9-inch circle on paper. Turn paper over; secure with masking tape.
2. Place egg whites and salt in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until foamy. Add juice and vanilla; beat until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form.
3. Spoon egg white mixture into 9-inch circle on prepared baking sheet. Shape meringue into a nest with 1-inch sides using the back of a spoon. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour. Turn oven off; cool meringue in closed oven for 30 minutes. Carefully remove meringue from paper.
4. To prepare topping, place chocolate and water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high 1 minute or until chocolate melts, stirring every 20 seconds.
5. Arrange berries on top of meringue; drizzle with chocolate sauce. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired. Serve within the hour.