- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

March, with its dreary remnants of winter set against its flirtation with spring, creates a culinary dilemma. The variable weather alternately inspires stick-to-the-ribs soups and ready-for-the-swimsuit lighter fare.

To top things off, there’s nothing like a pelting rain to whet the appetite.

How can a Two’s Company cook bring such disparate elements into a tasty recipe? Start with chocolate. It’s the solution to everything March and early April throw at us.

Chocolate doesn’t have to be outrageously fattening to soothe our frayed spirits. Cocoa powder, which delivers a powerful chocolate hit, has just 20 calories (or 30 for a premium variety) and a half a gram of fat to the tablespoon. Even an ounce of chocolate chips — about 60 chips if you’re counting — has fewer than 150 calories. What’s more, dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants that ease any chocolate-consumption guilt you may harbor.

Of course, the raw ingredients can only provide a fraction of the satisfaction. The rest depends on delicious recipes.

The following offerings are modest in calories, yet generous with flavor.

The chocolate sorbet is adapted from Ina Garten’s new book, “Barefoot Contessa at Home” (Clarkson Potter). Although the recipe yields more than two servings, leftovers will keep for several days if frozen in a container with an airtight lid.

Chocolate chip butter bites provide a tempting example of “less is more.” The one-bite morsels may be just what you need as an afternoon snack. Like the sorbet, these cookies can be stored in the freezer.

However, if baking or ice cream-making are too time-consuming and you need instant solace, I recommend the new Cacao Reserve by Hershey’s premium milk chocolate or dark chocolate truffles in a pocket-size tin. The entire package, with eight truffles, has 310 calories (milk chocolate) or 290 (dark), or you can ration them out at fewer than 50 calories per truffle. During early spring, you need all the chocolate you can get.

Chocolate rum sorbet

This recipe is adapted from “Barefoot Contessa at Home.”

1 cup sugar

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup concentrated liquid coffee

Water

2 teaspoons dark rum

Combine sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and salt in a saucepan. Stir in coffee and 1 cup water. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved and lumps of cocoa blend into the mixture. Remove from heat. Stir in the rum. Pour the mixture into a container. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or until very cold. This can be done a day in advance.

Process the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Spoon into a freezer-safe container. Freeze for 1 hour or until firm but not rock hard. Makes 6 servings.

Chocolate chip butter bites

½ cup butter at room temperature

6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sifted flour

1/3 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar in bowl of electric mixer at medium speed. Blend in salt and vanilla. Add the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until batter is light. Stir in chips by hand.

Spoon out batter by 1/2 teaspoon measure. Roll into marble-shaped balls and arrange 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until cookies are faintly browned. Remove and cool cookies on wire rack. Makes 4 dozen cookies; 4 cookies per serving.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30 Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons Inc.).

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