Well, I'm back! And just in time for Valentine's Day. This most romantic day can be wonderful or just plain disappointing if we have no sweetheart with which to share it or if your sweetheart doesn't spoil you just a bit. However, there is never a disappointment with chocolate!
There's a study reported by the BBC that suggests that melting a piece of chocolate in your mouth will produce an increase in brain activity and heart rate that is more intense than that produced by a passionate kiss and that the experience will last four times longer. Wow. Just think. If your honey isn't a first class kisser or if you haven't one available, just savor that piece of really rich dark chocolate.
Chocolate has been considered unhealthy for years probably due to the fat and sugar in it. Recently studies have shown that dark chocolate contains good antioxidants. Plus a small amount can lower your blood pressure a few points for a short time. If you have a bad cough another study suggests that if you melt a piece in your mouth and let it coat your throat, it may soothe it and stop your cough.
What is considered good chocolate? In earlier days dark chocolate containing 30 percent cacao solids was considered high quality. Nowadays dark chocolate should be at least 60 percent. The higher the percentage of chocolate, the less sugar. I like 85% cocoa in a bar labeled Excellence by Lindt, a Swiss maker of chocolate. I must warn you that many do not like this extra dark chocolate at first. It's an acquired taste like martinis. (By the way have you ever tried a chocolate martini? Be still my heart! See the end of this blog for the recipe!) But back to the Lindt chocolate bar. You can find it in a lower percentage such as 60 % as well. Today Lindt is so popular that you should be able to find the products at Walgreen's. The makers also use Bourbon Vanilla extracted from a type of orchid grown in Madagascar which is considered tops. I was surprised to find that other well known chocolatiers use soy emulsifiers which is a hydroginated vegetable stabilizer in place of cocao butter which is a slightly cheaper process.
If you like hot chocolate, be aware that Dutch chocolate which sounds as if it should be really good is just the opposite. Dutch chocolate is processed through alkali to make it easier to dissolve and to enhance the flavor. Unfortunately it also takes out most of the antioxidants and the flavonoids which are good for us. Both Hersey and Nestles make chocolate natural and Dutch processed. Just check the front of the packaging.
In many areas there are dedicated chocolate lovers and makers who create the most wonderful handmade delicacies. North of West Michigan there is Mimi Wheeler's shop on M-22 called the "Grocer's Daughter Chocolate" in Empire. She practices her art by using chocolate from Ecuador and is Rainforest Alliance certified. Her website is www.grocersdaughter.com.
In Wayland, MI you'll find "Awesome Chocolates", delicious handmade chocolates created by Henry Klok. He shares space with Daily Brews coffee shop. For more information you can call 269-792-2739.
"Sweetland Candies"has been a popular destination for years. The business was started 90 years ago by the family of co-owner John Naum Jr. Can you think of a more divine place to work? All candies are hand made in their full production area. For more information about Sweetland Candies call 616-363-3444.
In Grand Haven there's Patricia Christopher busy with her second career in her shop "chez Christopher." A retired school psychologist, she studied in Montreal at the Chocolate Academy and specializes in ganaches. You can find more information about her delicious products at her website: www.patriciaschocolate.com.
I must add one more destination for absolutely wonderful yummies. If you're looking for the best nuts and the best and SAFE peanut butter try "Koeze's". I've known about Koeze's for most of my life and in fact my late husband and I use to ride horseback with some of the Koeze boys many, many years ago, but I only recently realized how superior their nuts and chocolates were. A friend sent me a selection of mixed nuts and turtles for Christmas. Then I bought some nuts as a local store. Well, there is just no comparison. If you want to impress your sweetheart or treat yourself call Koeze's at 1-800-555-3909.
Incidently, a word of warning. Chocolate is very unhealthy for many animals including, cats, dogs, and horses to name just a few. They cannot digest the theobromine in the chocolate and can lead to death. So don't think you're giving them a treat if you love your pet.
I will suggest that if you want to spice up your romantic life, share some wonderful chocolate. And if you want to get your love in the mood, treat him/her to the best. My loving partner, Harry Borgman, and I are planning to take a tour to the above chocolate masters for our Valentine's treat. Then we are dining that evening with dear friends, Peg and Phil, at Markos, our favorite restaurant in Grand Rapids. Mark makes the best walleye we've even tasted. Then we'll finish the dinner with Markos' divine chocolate ganache tort.
Here's the recipe for a fabulous chocolate martini which we enjoy at Harry's and my favorite restaurant. Soe's, in the town of Sawyer in Southwest Michigan on the Red Arrow Highway. Kathleen, one of the co-owners and bartender extraordinaire, graciously shared it with us: 1-1/2 oz Vanilla Stoli, 1 oz Cream de Cocoa, 1 oz Bailey's. Shake Well. I would suggest only one if you plan to drive home!
HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!