Romance and love are in the air. Let’s not forget about chocolate! Nothing says valentines like chocolate, conversation hearts and flowers. More than 58 million pounds of chocolate will be sold in leading up to that special day in February. Chocolate delivers a powerful punch in each bite. Last month we talked about comfort foods and how chocolate contains serotonin. It is mood lifting and plays a starring role as a comfort food. The natural compound of phenylethylamine in chocolate turns it into a stimulant. One thought is that chocolate stimulates short-lived feelings similar to when you are “in love” therefore giving it a nickname of the “love drug.”
A gift of chocolate this February will not only shower your sweetheart with a gift of love and comfort but delight his/her heart as well. The anatomical heart, that is. February is also Heart (Health) Month. Believe it or not, a growing number of studies show that chocolate can be a heart healthy choice. That’s right, chocolate! It’s the ingredient of flavanols in cocoa that is so beneficial. The Mayo Clinic states that this flavanol component produces an antioxidant effect that can help reduce cell damage in heart disease, lower blood pressure and improve how your vessels and heart system work.
The secret to chocolate that’s good for your heart
First choose the darkest cocoa powder and chocolate you can find. It has the highest amount of these beneficial flavanols. Stop! This is not a license to eat chocolate candy like it’s an after Halloween sale! Most chocolate that is consumed is in the form of candy. Most chocolate candy and baked goods have added sugar and fat, which decreases the health benefit of the good cocoa. Chocolate candy, even dark should be eaten in moderation. Cocoa powder is where the goodness lies.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of stowing away with Paul on a business trip to the Netherlands. One of our excursions was to a historic windmill village called Zaanse Schans, where we smelled cocoa in the air. Our guide gave us a crash course on Dutch cocoa. It is believed that the Aztecs in Central America discovered cocoa and cherished this sacred plant, using it as “money” as well as creating the amazing chocolate drink we love. The scientific name for chocolate translates into, the much deserving “drink of the gods.” Cocoa came to Europe in the 15th century but it wasn’t until the late 18th century that Amsterdam became a major player in the world of chocolate. The Dutch discovered the way to remove the fat from the cocoa bean and create cocoa powder as we know it today.
Dutchcocoa.com states that cacao is grown in the warmest part of our planet, which is the equator give or take 20 degrees. About 60% of the world’s supply is grown in Africa. Commercial cacao trees grow 13 to 26 feet high. Under a canopy of long, thin, dark green leaves, green pods grow out from the trunk and lower branches. It takes five to six months for them to be ready for harvest. Crack open the nine-inch yellow or red pods and you’ll find 30 to 40 cocoa beans, surrounded by white, spongy pulp. The cocoa beans are then roasted and pressed to separate into cocoa butter and cocoa “cake.” The “cake” is turned into cocoa powder where cocoa butter is used in chocolate making.
Americans consume 11 pounds of chocolate a year. Although this is less than the Swiss at 20 pounds, that’s still a lot of chocolate. Next time you reach for chocolate, choose dark and enjoy a healthy chocolate valentine’s treat. Your heart and sweetheart will thank you!
Eat well & healthy!
Avocado & Banana Chocolate Pudding cleaneating.com (This is the source, not an endorsement. I made this and it’s good. I know it sounds weird, but I double dog dare you to try it!)
1 1/2 bananas, very ripe
1 avocado, ripe, pitted and peeled
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract, optional
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, optional
To a food processor, add banana, avocado and cocoa powder. Process until just a few chunks remain, about 1 minute. With processor running, pour maple syrup through feed tube and process until completely smooth, scraping down bowl as needed, about 1 minute. Add vanilla (if using) and cinnamon and process until combined, about 10 seconds.
Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until completely chilled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Nutrition Information per 1/3 cup: 171 calories, 28 g carb, 8g fat, 6g fiber
“Hot Chocolate” Banana-Nut Oatmeal foodnetwork.com
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp pure almond extract
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 Tbsp. unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2-3 Tbsp. honey or agave nectar
1/3 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
Pinch ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. dark chocolate chips
2 fully-ripened large bananas (1 1/2 diced and 1/2 thinly sliced crosswise)
Bring the milk, 1 3/4 cups water, the diced bananas, and pinch of salt to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat.
Stir in the oats, cocoa powder and 1 ½ tablespoon of the honey and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, until the oats are fully cooked to desired consistency, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in almond and vanilla extracts.
Transfer to 4 bowls, top with the sliced bananas, walnuts, the remaining 1 tablespoon honey, cinnamon and chocolate chips and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Red Wine Chocolate Lava Cakes eatingwell.com
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, divided
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons red wine, divided
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 6 cups of a muffin tin with cooking spray.
Place 3 ounces chocolate and 4 tablespoons butter in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on High for 1 minute. Stir, then continue microwaving, if needed, stirring every 15 seconds, until completely melted. Let cool slightly. Whisk in 1 tablespoon wine, eggs, egg yolk, vanilla and salt. Sift confectioners’ sugar, flour and cocoa over the batter and whisk until smooth. Divide the batter evenly among the 6 prepared muffin cups, using about ¼ cup each.
Bake the cakes until the edges look dry and puffed but the centers still look soft and gooey, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack until firm, about 2 minutes. Place a cutting board on top of the pan and invert the cakes out onto it. If they stick, run a knife around and under them to loosen.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 ounce chocolate and 1 tablespoon butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on High for 1 minute. Stir, then continue microwaving, if needed, stirring every 15 seconds, until completely melted. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon wine. Using a thin spatula, transfer the cakes to serving plates. Drizzle the cakes with the chocolate sauce, about 1 teaspoon each. Serve warm.
Chocolate Sauce www.Health.com
2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup agave syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine first 4 ingredients (through coffee granules) in a food processor. Process until finely ground (about 1 minute).
In a small saucepan, stir water and agave syrup together; bring just to a boil over medium-high heat. With the food processor running, add the syrup mixture, then vanilla. Continue processing until sauce is smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until chilled (at least 2 hours). Stir before serving over fruit, ice cream, or banana bread.