Chocolate: better than sex? Okay, no, but still it’s pretty damn good. (Someone told me the other day that I have to stop talking about sex all the time, though I’m still waiting for the answer to “Why?” I haven’t even reviewed the “Batman XXX” parody movie yet!) But let’s talk about chocolate today.
I don’t drink coffee — as far as I’m concerned it’s one of Life’s Big Disappointments that something can smell so good and taste so bad — but I like coffee flavored things and yes, if you dump enough stuff into coffee to the point that it starts tasting like melted ice cream I’ll lap it up. But a plain cuppa bean juice? No thanks. To me it’s a bitter, one-note, thin, and lifeless liquid on the tongue.
My stimulant of choice comes from a different bean: cocao. I have my mother to thank for this obsession (thanks Mom!). I’m so hooked on the dark stuff that I can’t eat milk chocolate at all anymore (and don’t even talk to me about “white chocolate”, that stuff is an abomination). My relationship with it is almost ritualistic — around mid-afternoon, when the blood sugar is dropping and all the smart people in the world are taking their siestas, I hit the high octane cacao. And if I’m working late at night, a cup of tea and several squares will keep me painting through the wee hours. No sleep till Brooklyn!
To spread the joy I’ve been honing a few desserts that hopefully leave guests in a happy coma (Death By Chocolate Bread Pudding, Tartine-style brownies made with Valhrona chocolate, Mexican chocolate cake dusted with sugar bones, a variety of pies that were vastly improved by melting a couple bars of chocolate inside of the pie shell before pouring in the filling, and the Chocolate Ganache Tart w/ Crushed Pecans).
And not only is chocolate utterly heavenly — it’s good for you. That’s right, my vice kicks your vice’s ass! Chocolate is a very complex food, with over 300 different compounds and chemicals in it. Dark chocolate has more flavonoids than green tea or red wine. (Why should you care? Flavonoids act like antioxidants, which should only concern you if you’d like to slow the inevitable march of decay through your body.). It can relax your blood pressure, balance a few hormones, is good for your heart (no wonder they put in those heart shaped boxes!), and improves blood flow to the brain. For reals! People tested better on math problems after drink high quality hot cocoa (which I wish I’d known about in high school — me and math still aren’t on speaking terms). It can even lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, though maybe not when it’s in Death By Chocolate Bread Pudding ’cause that has about 3 cups of heavy cream in it. (Soooo good…)
Studies have even shown that cacao has antibacterial agents in it that fight tooth decay, so chew up a nice guilt-free bar before you see your dentist and give them a big brown smile. Hell you don’t even have to eat it — just the smell of good chocolate can increase your theta brain waves and relax you!
Want more? How ’bout that nice endorphin & seratonin boost. Studies say it “gives a feeling of pleasure.” Understatement of the year. I have a friend who, every time he calls me, says “Why are you so damn happy all the time?!” And I generally chalk it up to having a sunny disposition, but I did start wondering if my chocolate habit might have something to do with it.
And okay, it’s got some caffeine in it, but sometimes a little stimulant is just what the doctor ordered. Plus, hello, it tastes really, really good. What are you waiting for? GO GET SOME CHOCOLATE! (Just keep it away from your four footed friends, it’s bad for cats n’ dogs.)
Here are a few of my favorites and to be clear, yes I am a petite pig, I live to eat, but with chocolate it’s all about moderation. (And anybody who thinks I’ve got tremendous self control has never seen me around pretty much any kind of pie. I’ve learned my limits with chocolate — trial and error, baby!)
Trader Joe’s Organic 73% Super Dark
This is good, every day chocolate. I like the slightly bitter taste, plus it’s organic which is nice ’cause they put some pretty powerful pesticides on cacao plants and apparently the way they process cacao actually concentrates the pesticides in chocolate. Bummer. For a little variety sometimes I’ll get the Dark w/ Raisins & Pecans, or Super Dark w/ Almonds.
Locally made, high grade. My friend Rick makes chocolate for TCHO and brought a huge bag of these little tiles when we went camping this summer, so we ended up dropping them into everything (but mostly our mouths).
Divine 70% Dark Chocolate, Fair Trade
Amazingly tasty stuff, smooooth, really delivers the goods. Nice wrapper too. I actually used the gold inner foil wrappers from these bars when I was working out ideas for the “Into the Woodz” series of paintings — all the drawings in my sketchbook have little gold dookie ropes made from Divine foil.
Yes, chocolate is my sweet, brown muse!
Okay I admit it, this one I bought for the packaging, it’s like a tobacco pouch for your sweet tooth! (I ended up using it as a pencil case.) This particular one had crystallized orange peel in it, not bad at all. (Lindt also makes a nice dark choc bar w/ pieces of orange and almond slivers.)
Salted chocolate — absolutely, oh my yes. I love me some salty/sweet anything, and regularly dump a box of Raisinettes into the bucket of salty movie popcorn (before you scoff, try it!). So all those nice chocolates out there with Fleur de Sel or Hawaiian rock salt on ’em? Bring it. I don’t seem to have any boxes or wrappers for these… I think I ate them too.
Pure Dark Bark Classic
This stuff is almost too sweet so I can’t eat much at a time. Still, the combo of good chocolate, crunchy almonds, tart cherries, a dash of salt, caramelized nibs and the sharp little bark shapes is pretty tasty. If you’re pondering “caramelized nibs”, that’s itty bitty crushed pieces of the actual cocoa bean that are lightly toasted. Nibs rule! At the Pure Dark shops they smash up the enormous sheets of this for you (it comes in other flavors too).
Dark Chocolate Nibs: Speaking of nibs, Trader Joe’s also has little Altoids-like metal tins of dark chocolate covered nibs (because somehow they read my mind and knew just what I wanted). If you hear me rattling as I skip down the street, it’s the nibs can in my pocket.
Theo Organic Fair Trade Cherry & Almond 70%
I tried this to see if it was like the Pure Dark bark and it was probably just fine but honestly I can’t remember.
I could write a whole other post about making high quality hot chocolate (like the joys of Salt n’ Pepper Mexican hot chocolate with warm bread) but I gotta get some work done today. Go forth and consume chocolate!!!