Monday, February 8, 2010

Take it From a Chocohaulic

I wrote the following for EvaMag a few years back and thought you might enjoy this as you're firming up plans for Valentine's Day. Make sure you scroll to the bottom to see video of our family's tradition: the chocolate fountain.

I eat chocolate every day. That’s right—every day! My name is Margaret, and I am a bonafide chocoholic. Join with me, “Hi, Margaret.” Now that I’ve come to terms with my addiction, I see the positive aspects as well. Over the years, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of really good chocolate and am happy to share my knowledge to help you give the gift of chocolate for Valentine’s Day.

Though we are emerging from New Year’s resolutions to eat better and exercise more, I feel Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to splurge. I’d take a box of fine chocolates over flowers any day. The key is to buy a quality chocolate, like Sees made in California or Lindt from Switzerland. Don’t waste your time and money on cheap heart-shaped no-name imitators. Five fine truffles are better than 25 crème-filled impersonators of real chocolate. The ingredient list tells you all you need to distinguish pure chocolate from manufacturers that use fillers.

For a good variety of imported chocolates, check out Cost Plus World Market in the Turkey Creek shopping center. Knoxville can also boast Bradley’s Chocolate, Candy Blast, Mast General Store, and the South’s Finest Chocolate Factory for a variety of chocolates. I considered visiting all of them in the name of research but didn’t have time or spare room in my pants waistline.

For a special homemade touch this year, may I recommend the irresistible—dare I say sexy—form of chocolate. Melted chocolate in either a fondue pot or fountain can be a big hit as a romantic dessert for two, a party focal point, or a new family favorite. I first fell in love with chocolate fondue at The Melting Pot. Always save room for their dessert. Both pots and fountains can be found at major home retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond. (Don’t forget their 20% off coupon in most Sunday papers or mailers).

You can melt whichever chocolate you prefer: milk, semi sweet, white, or butterscotch. However, the instructions for the fountain recommend pure Belgian chocolate, high in cocoa butter. If you use chocolate chips from the grocery store, at least buy the better quality like Ghirardelli or Hershey’s. The store brands may not even list chocolate as the main ingredient. For the fountain, you’ll need 24 ounces (2 bags) of chips and ¾ cup of canola or vegetable oil; follow instructions in the manual. Fondue pots usually come with a few recipes in the back of their manuals as well, but it’s as easy as melting 2 bags of chips with 1 cup of heavy whipping cream. The key to both is heating the chocolate mixture gradually and stirring often, so as to not scald it.

There are no major rules for which dipping delicacies you choose, but some foods work better than others. My personal favorite is strawberries, but other good fruits are firm bananas, pineapple chunks, and canned mandarin oranges. Angel food cake is about the only cake firm enough to handle the chocolate; Pirouette cookies hold up nicely too. Of course, there’s also pretzels, marshmallows, peanut butter balls, and for the truly decadent--miniature Snickers bars.

Whichever chocolate path you prefer, I wish you well in your pursuit and preparation of quite simply the best food on earth.

Interesting Chocolate Tid-bits:

  • Chocolate residue found in several jars in Honduras from around 1100 B.C. is the earliest evidence of the use of cacao. It seems to have been part of an alcoholic beverage.
  • Xocolatl was a chocolate drink consumed by the Aztecs and associated with the Mayan god of fertility. Originally it was bitter and was said to be an acquired taste.
  • Centuries ago, chocolate was an important luxury good, and cocoa beans were often used as currency.
  • Christopher Columbus brought some cocoa beans to show Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. By the 17th century, chocolate drinks were luxury items among the European nobility.
  • The mid 1800’s saw the invention of the chocolate bar. Several candy makers throughout Europe began developing their own recipes, including the creators of Cadbury, Nestle, and Lindt.
  • About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is produced in Western Africa.


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