Thursday, March 18, 2010

Confessions of a Chocoholic: American Chocolate Week

Welcome to Oh! Chocolate - the site of my chocolate class last Thursday.

When I first exclaimed to my sister how excited I was that this week - March 14th-21st - is American Chocolate Week, she responded with "Eeww!" Ew? Who ews chocolate? Well, it wasn't the idea of chocolate that offended her, but the idea that I bought into a celebration of the fake, plastic-y, Hershey-esque, mass-produced chocolate that Americans inhale like it might be disappear any moment. No, my dear. Although I consume an embarrassingly large amount of chocolate, I am very discriminating about the source and quality of my choices. But, anyway, on to celebrating the beauty that is chocolate!
Oh, my! Heaven on a plate greeted me as I walked to the back of the chocolate shop.

It was only last Thursday, after spending the early part of the afternoon playing around in tempered chocolate that I discovered the significance of the upcoming week. Not really caring who came up with this spectacular idea for the third week of every March, I decided I DID want some background info on chocolate - Wikipedia, here I come!

Yes, I did get to take home my dark-chocolate dipped goodies...and the leftover tempered mass!

The delicacy that now graces our grocery shelves hails from a rich ancestry dating back at least three millennia. A drink of the gods, xocolatl, the product of cacao beans possessed great ceremonial and healthful properties that made it a staple in the regions south of the present-day US border. After being co-opted by the Spanish, and then improved upon by the French, this tantalizing bean has made its name in the culinary arts.

I won't even attempt to go into the complex process of growing and turning cacao into the chocolate we delight in, but I will extol its supposed benefits (mainly because I have to believe that eating so much of it is actually good for me). Granted, these health perks are only realized with dark (65% cacao or greater), non-alkalized chocolate or cocoa. It is high in antioxidants (so chocolate covered blueberries provide a double dose!), improves circulation, and possesses a mild stimulant - theobromine. And though no one has proven the aphrodisiac effects of chocolate, I for one would be easily won over by a good dark chocolate bar!
Now, as much as I love chocolate, I realize its toll on the environment and farmers in developing countries. The cacao plant only grows in the tropics, and the people who make their living from selling this prized crop are often underpaid and exploited. If you want to make your chocolate habit a little more ethical, check out brands of Fair Trade chocolates. And, read the cocoa chapter in Fred Pearce's Confessions of an Eco-Sinner.

Finally, what would a post on chocolate be without a few recipes to tantalize your sweet tooth and satisfy that baking urge? I admit I often choose a good piece (or many pieces) of dark chocolate over something with added ingredients, but I am a fan of chocolate desserts on a whole. A while back I posted on vegan truffles, which were lauded by my sister as seriously "unveganlike." Bittersweet surprised me one day with a Chocolate Chickpea Spread that put a smile on my face. Chocolate Beet Cake is amazing - use Bull's Blood and it's even better with more beets! If you love Flourless Chocolate Cake, which I do, here is a recipe for you! And just when you think it can't get any better, fill up on omega 3 fatty acids with Chocolate Avocado Mousse.

Now that I've spent way too much time expounding upon chocolate, I will leave you with the promise of an ode to St. Patrick's Day in the next post!

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