For the love of Chocolate

When February comes rolling in, with it’s cold days and nights so does the thought of many happy things. Heart Month comes to mind as does Valentine’s Day and Family Day. Such wonderful things to celebrate, in my mind they are all things that have to do with or represent love.
One big ingredient that does come up often this month is chocolate. I think almost more than at Easter when chocolate makes another big appearance. Many people adore this rich, luxurious ingredient whether it is as a pourable liquid or a firm bar. What is it about chocolate that gets people excited? 
It varies for all, but for me it’s about the smooth rich texture and strong chocolate flavour that comes from biting into a great dark chocolate bar and having it melt away in my mouth. A wonderful curiosity of chocolate that it melts at body temperature so it slowly melts away and sometimes it takes away any negative thoughts.
And we keep hearing how good it is for you. That just seems to be a bonus, but not all chocolate is created equally. Higher percentages of cocoa chocolate (the chocolate bars that have a percentage on their wrapper) can give you more of the antioxidant quality and deep chocolate flavour you may be looking for. Although creamy milk chocolate has that sweetness that so many of us adore. 
I have tried to share the unique qualities of chocolate in cooking classes that I teach in order to get people to taste the differences and trust me when i say there truely is. You can do this experiment at home and invite some friends as they are sure to enjoy it along with you.
Pick up a few chocolate bars with varying percentages of cocoa; for example a 70%, 76% and 85% and taste them one at a time to taste the difference. As that % goes up the sugar decreases and the true chocolate flavour comes out. Then if you want to have a little more fun, look for origins chocolate. This is chocolate that is labelled from which country the cocoa beans were grown. Much like grapes when making wine and the terroir shaping the flavour of the wine, so does the terroir of where the cocoa beans are grown. So if you were to taste a chocolate bar made from Ecuador and one from Mexico with the same % of cocoa, there still can be a flavour difference because the cocoa beans were grown in different countries. It is such a fun way to celebrate some of these special days in February. 
You can also find chocolate in different shapes and sizes. Of course the symbol of love is the heart, so that shape will be found quite easily right now. But small pellets called pastilles or pistoles (varying on brand) are almost the size of chocolate chips and are perfect for snacking on but also to use in baking and for melting they are wonderful because no chopping is necessary. Look for local chocolatiers that create wonderful pure bars that are perfect for sharing or chopping and adding to a great recipe to share with family and friends. 
This February make love last all month and enjoy a little taste of deliciousness any way you like it. Whether its in a little taste test, cookies, cakes or drinks it will surely lift your spirits. And you might be able to share a special moment of learning and experience to show the love you feel all month long.

Here is a rich and decadent Hot Chocolate with a zip of spice and sweet that will get your heart pumping and warm your soul all at the same time. 

Spiced Hot Chocolate 
This recipe takes the sweet and spicy tastes and combines them to create a decadent tasting hot beverage. 

3 oz (90 g) 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup (75 mL) dark brown sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 tbsp (15 mL) instant coffee granules
1/4 tsp (1 mL) fresh ground nutmeg
3 cups (750 mL) whole milk
2 cinnamon sticks
Pinch ancho chili powder
Whipped cream (optional)

Whisk together chocolate, sugar, cocoa powder, instant coffee and nutmeg with 1 cup (250 mL) of the milk in a saucepan. 

Add cinnamon sticks and set over medium low heat and melt whisking occasionally for about 2 minutes or until smooth. Slowly whisk in remaining milk and chili powder; bring to a gentle simmer whisking often for about 8 minutes or until steaming and hot.

Serve dolloped with whipped cream and a pinch of chili powder or nutmeg, if desired.

Serves 4 to 6. (Yields about 3 cups/750 mL)

Tip: If serving right away without cream, simply whisk vigorously to produce more bubbles on top.

For a smoky hit of chili powder try using chipotle for the ancho chili powder

Look for 70% cocoa chocolate bars in the candy aisle of the grocery store or local chocolate shops. 
For a spicier version of this drink you can use a dark chocolate bar infused with chili.


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