- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

This may not be the year you celebrate Valentine’s Day in an elegant restaurant. Or maybe you’re skipping your intimate lobster dinner at home to trim your budget.

Thank goodness chocolate, the ambrosial route to romance, is still affordable.

Unlike some ingredients that are expensive, chocolate has a luxurious allure while being within reach, according to Beth Kimmerle, a candy and chocolate historian in New York City

“You can get exotic flavors in a [chocolate] bar, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money, says Miss Kimmerle.

In fact, if you can’t promise your sweetheart the world for Valentine’s Day, you can do the next best thing and provide a taste of chocolates from different cocoa-growing regions.

“You can have a fun night tasting bars from all over the world,” says Miss Kimmerle, author of “Chocolate: The Sweet History” (Collectors Press). You can also take your chocolate explorations further.

Miss Kimmerle suggests preparing an unusual dessert of chocolate pudding with a fried bacon strip as an accompaniment. Dip the bacon in the chocolate for a taste that’s simultaneously salty and sweet.

For another easy and fun dessert, melt semisweet chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water and drizzle it over sliced bananas alternating with salted pecan halves and crumbled macaroons in a tall glass.

Don’t overlook hot chocolate as a source for seduction. “The aroma of a chocolate drink wafting through the air is very sexy and romantic,” Miss Kimmerle says.

The following two nontraditional hot chocolate recipes are luscious enough to warm up your celebration.

Hot mocha

Makes 2 servings.

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon freeze-dried coffee granules

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of mace

1/4 cup half-and-half

1 cup milk

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into small chunks

Combine cocoa, sugar, coffee, cinnamon and mace in a small, heavy-bottomed pot. Gradually add half-and-half, stirring constantly. Press out any lumps from cocoa. Stir in milk. Bring to a simmer over low heat.

Stir in chocolate chunks. Simmer over very low heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate melts and hot chocolate is sipping temperature. Pour into 2 heatproof glasses or mugs.

Each serving has: 290 calories; 15 grams total fat; 6.5 grams protein; 33.5 grams carbohydrates and 150 milligrams sodium

Spiced hot chocolate

Makes 2 servings.

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa

1 tablespoon sugar

1/16 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup half-and-half

1 cup milk

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into small chunks

2 small red or green jalapeno or serrano chilies for garnish

Combine cocoa, sugar, red pepper flakes and cinnamon in a small, heavy-bottomed pot. Gradually add half-and-half, stirring constantly. Press out any lumps from cocoa. Stir in milk. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Stir in chocolate chunks. Simmer over very low heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate melts and hot chocolate is sipping temperature.

Pour into 2 heatproof glasses or mugs. For chili garnish, make a slash in the tip of each chili. Balance the chili on the glass.

Note: If desired, strain out chili flakes before serving.

Each serving has: 280 calories; 15 grams total fat; 6.5 grams protein; 31.5 grams carbohydrates and 150 milligrams sodium.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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