Saturday, February 16, 2013

Valentine's Day and Chocolate...

Everyone's favorite hallmark holiday has come and gone again this week.  Flowers, sweets, balloons, teddy bears etc. etc. everywhere.  I am not opposed to Valentine's Day but I don't really think it's a big deal either.  We don't plan any big celebrations or outings at our house.  In fact, I would prefer to stay away from restaurants on such a busy night.  I'm not booking a sitter to wait for a table for an hour!  No fancy gifts necessary.  No scrambling for freshly cut roses for this girl. 

Before you conclude that I am a completely miserable and boring person, please know that there is one aspect of Valentine's Day that I adore: chocolate.  I love chocolate.  And when I say I love chocolate, I mean I looove chocolate. I know it's not uncommon to hear of people who love chocolate, but I would say I am a true chocoholic.  I even have a chocolate lab for a dog....and that's not a coincidence.  It's my thing.  It's wonderful.  I have a little bit of chocolate every day, 7 days a week, 365 days each year.  Don't mess with it.  Don't hide my supply.  And whatever you do, do not and I mean do NOT, chow down on the tiny little bit left right before grocery day.  Just don't- trust me.

With my affection for chocolate, I have made it a point to try a large variety over the years.  I have been fortunate to have had the opportunities to travel a decent amount before starting a family.  Over those journeys, I sampled the chocolates of France, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, England, Mexico and even Japan.  If anyone I know is traveling somewhere I have never been and asks if there is anything I would like, chocolate is always the answer- always.  During my travels, I think I judged whether or not I could live in a particular country by my level of affection for their native chocolate.

One disadvantage of these small chocolate adventures is that they may have turned me into a chocolate snob.  Although not a problem for me, this means that my husband can not just run to CVS the night before or day of a special occasion and grab a pretty arrangement of Hersheys.  It's not going to cut it.  No offense to lovers of Hershey bars out there, but I think they are crap.  I was spoiled on a childhood of rich and creamy Cadbury from my native Ireland.  Try some imported Cadbury chocolates and then try to tell me that Hershey kisses are awesome.  I dare you.

So, how does love of chocolate fit into an overall goal of healthy living?  I could cite research that shows the antioxidant benefits of chocolate and other nutrient dense qualities, but I am not going to do that.  Those things are great but truthfully I don't care.  Even if there were no antioxidants or other redeeming qualities, I would still enjoy my chocolate.  Life is too short and this is where I subscribe to a philosophy of balance and moderation. Here are a few things I use to keep my chocolate indulgences in balance and enjoy it completely:

Chocolate can be enjoyed as a whole food.  Oh Yes, it can.   Pure cocoa is a simple, whole food ingredient.  Like everything else, take the time to read the list of ingredients on the product you are buying.  You should be able to pronounce them all, spell them all and memorize them quickly because the list should be short.  It should sound like your mom's pantry, not a chemical cocktail developed in a lab. Enjoy a made from scratch hot cocoa- it takes barely minutes and has 3 ingredients: milk, cocoa and sugar (optional- or you could use less refined products such as honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar).  Easy peasy and delicious.

Indulge in a high quality bar of chocolate, especially dark chocolate. There is a local chocolate shop making their own confections relatively near us.  I do not go there often and I am not claiming that it is health food by any stretch, but it's nice to get a high quality, made from scratch treat once in a while that also supports a local business.  If that option is not available, grocery stores now have decent options of high quality chocolate.  One of my new favorites is Green & Black's Organic varieties.  I won't find these options on sale for 70 cents per bar, but the difference in taste versus a standard candy bar is worth it in my opinion.  Also, it is highly unlikely to devour more than a few pieces at a time when enjoying a high quality, rich piece of chocolate.  It just doesn't happen....even with a chocoholic like me.

Make Your Own Baked Goods. Ok, myself and others who truly enjoy baking have an edge up on this one, but there are a lot of great recipes out there that are pretty quick and simple to create less processed and healthier options for chocolate fixes.  If you are looking for healthy or whole food recipes, check out blogs like Chocolate Covered Katie, My Whole Food Life and 100 Days of Real Food for information at your finger tips.  Some health enthusiasts subscribe to completely eliminating all refined sugar from their diet.  I'm not there yet.  Some people indicate they feel better with sugar completely out of their diet and I respect that.  I do not use refined sugar in the large majority of my baking, but I do not think there is a health risk to enjoying a homemade or freshly made cookie or cupcake for a special occasion once in a while, even if there is sugar in the recipe.  I would much prefer to make that special treat myself, from scratch where I know what the ingredients are versus grabbing a convenience store bought item with an ingredients list like a NASA experiment.

Exercise.  This one may seem obvious but constant moving and activity keeps things in balance.  I'm still looking for a shirt that says "Will Run For Chocolate..."  Anyone know where I can get one of those? 

It also turns out that the apple does not fall far from the tree and chocoholism is an inherited trait.

This little one had a pre-school Valentine's party, which required treats.  So, we had a baking party and whipped up some whole wheat brownie & chocolate dipped strawberry lollipops.

The Whole Wheat Brownies were inspired by Jillian Michael's Master Your Metabolism Cookbook and 100 Days of Real Food. 

Whole Wheat Brownies
Dry Ingredients
~3/4 cup whole wheat flour
~1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
~1/4 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
~1/4 teaspoon baking soda
~1/4 teaspoon salt
Wet Ingredients
~1/3 cup honey
~1/2 cup butter
~1 teaspoon vanilla extract (you could substitute peppermint, almond or even orange extract for a different hint of flavor)
~2 eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.  In a small pot, melt together the honey, butter & vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, add the 2 eggs and mix with mixer or by hand until well incorporated.  Grease a baking dish and spread the batter into the dish.  Bake in the oven approximately 18 minutes or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.  Let the brownies cool in the dish before removing.  Cut into desired shapes and indulge!

After some decorations and stickers added by the munchkin.....

And this pregnant lady knows what to do with those brownie scraps after cutting out little hearts for the kiddos at school!  Throw them on top of some Stonyfield Organic After Dark Chocolate frozen yogurt and settle in for an episode of Mad Men on Netflix.....bliss.

Do you have any go to recipes for those chocolate cravings?


Katie said...

Have you baked with coconut flour? I've used in for pancakes (and it was good), but I think it might be really good in brownies. I'm an awful baker. I lack the enthusiasm and patience required. So the thing with coconut flour is that it doesn't taste as grainy/nutty as whole wheat flour (which is the only other flour I use), but it has like double the fiber. Obviously you can't just replace regular flour because you need that gluten to make stuff rise, but there's some ratio like 20% or something that you can replace. I'm telling you all this so you can experiment and then give me the final recipe. ;)

About Me said...

I have not tried coconut flour just yet but I can give it a whirl sometime! I also use the wheat flour for baking. Unfortunately, I find that it sinks cakes or cupcakes, but for breads, brownies & muffins it has worked out. I'm a messy, experimental & sometimes flop of a baker but I actually love baking...preferably on my own. I tend to miss ingredients if I am also tending to the toddler!

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