Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
In a little over a week, the country will once again be besieged with the uncontrollable urge to pay $10 — maybe more — for a flower bud that normally costs about $2. It’s not because they look or smell any different than they did two days earlier, or will look or smell two days later. Mainly, it’s because sleeping in Fido’s abode isn’t very comfortable. I personally am very fortunate that my Mrs. was never into flowers . . . especially grossly overpriced flowers. She would prefer an extravagant — or even a simple — meal that was created from the heart. And even if I was among the masses who felt compelled to spend the better part of a car payment on foliage, my flower of choice would be a dozen anthuriums. Why anthuriums? For starters, I would be supporting some Big Island nursery operator and, well, they are brilliant red and shaped like the very organ that you hope Cupid pierces with his love arrow. Not to mention it also has that stamen that resembles . . . Well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.
BETTER THAN THORN-STEMMED FLOWERS
Leave the flowers at the florist and head to the grocery store, or even better, the specialty grocer, and purchase the one food that supposedly mimics that feeling of love — chocolate. Chocolate is also a stalwart symbol of Cupid’s Day, and I’d rather spend hard-earned dinero — that’s urban lingo for bucks . . . you know, green kälä — on something that actually tastes good. Chocolate contains antioxidants that are supposed to be heart-healthy, and we all need a healthy ticker if it’s about to be pierced by one of Cupid’s arrows. It also is supposed to mimic the feeling of being in love, right? Actually, I’m simply enamored by the taste of that molten oozing liquid of love from a perfectly half-baked chocolate cake.
WHAT IS CHOCOLATE?
The plant that eventually creates chocolate as we know it is the cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao. Most of the worldwide production comes from parts of Africa and South America, as cacao trees need at least 60 degrees to thrive. Therefore, it’s also grown right here in the 50th in our own backyard. The pods that house the cacao beans sprout from all parts of the tree, including the stems, branches and trunk (like mountain apples). You would be repulsed by the fresh beans if you attempted to consume them fresh, as they resemble animal brains and are coated in a mucilaginous substance. They only resemble the dark brown chocolate that we know and love after the fermenting, drying and roasting processes. And, even then, the ground nibs that produce a liquid or chocolate liquor must be mixed with cocoa butter and sugar to produce a rudimentary chocolate. Other than sugar, the two basic components of chocolate are cocoa powder (the solids) and cocoa butter (the fat), with better chocolates containing a higher percentage of cocoa solids.
However, if you are considering seeking out pure 100 percent cocoa solid chocolate, don’t bother. It’s simply a chalky, slightly bitter morsel with no real flavor. And because it’s not very palatable, it’s not that easy to find. It’s mainly purchased by chocolatiers, who then add their own flavorings, sweeteners and cocoa butter to produce their own gourmet chocolates.
As you may have read, chocolate, especially dark chocolate, contains a fair amount of antioxidants, with one particular brand — Dove Dark — containing the most flavanols, including procyanidins, epicatechins and catechins, which, theoretically, may reduce the risk for heart disease by lowering oxidation levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and raising HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine, which supposedly mimics the feeling we experience when we’re in love.
But, before you start binging on dark chocolate, be forewarned that 100gm (about 3.5 ounces) of chocolate also contains about 540 calories with about 30gm of fat. Roughly two-thirds of that fat is in the form of saturated fats, the same fats that raise LDL cholesterol levels. So, that extra dose of antioxidants provided in chocolate may simply be balancing the extra dose of saturated fats that you’re consuming. But, if you still want to gorge on chocolate, purely for the antioxidants and nutritional benefits, you can accomplish that simply with cocoa powder, as these antioxidants are mainly in the cocoa solids, not the fat. Sorry to have burst your bubble.
BALANCING FLAVOR WITH
I indulge in a great piece of chocolate regularly, but I never consume a lot of straight chocolate. Possibly, it’s because I really don’t have a sweet tooth, or maybe it’s the result of an unfortunate childhood incident in which I consumed a whole solid-chocolate Peter Rabbit at Easter and ended getting to know the porcelain altar in the bathroom much more intimately than I ever wanted. Thus, I enjoy healthier chocolate options in which the cocoa powder provides the boost of flavor versus simply consuming obscene amounts of melted chocolate. The one downside to cocoa powder is that during the drying and heating process, volatile flavor components are lost. Therefore, adding chocolate extract — which is simply an extract of ground cocoa beans soaked in an alcohol solution — replaces these lost flavor components. Adding instant coffee and salt also boosts the overall flavor of any chocolate dessert.
So, in lieu of a dozen roses, charm your special someone in nine days with chocolate. This healthier version of brownies is just as flavorful, but with a lot less saturated fat. Less saturated fat means less arterial blockage, which will give you a heart that’s easier for Cupid to target.
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon hot water
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1 teaspoon chocolate extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Beat sugar and eggs until pale yellow. Dissolve coffee in hot water and add to sugar mixture. Add the butter, then chocolate and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. In another bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet and mix just until incorporated — mixture will be very thick. Pour mixture into a greased 8” x 8” square pan and bake at 325 degrees for 23 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares and dust with powdered sugar.
1 ounce vanilla-flavored vodka
1 ounce Godiva chocolate liqueur
1 ounce raspberry liqueur
3 fresh raspberries
Shake over very cold ice and then pour into a martini glass. Garnish with the fresh raspberries on a cocktail skewer.
For presentation, you can drizzle melted white chocolate on the inside of the martini glass to contrast the rich cocktail within.
So, hopefully, I’ve enticed your amour pour le chocolat . . .
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”