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Seasonal Kitchen: No other ingredient evokes the feeling of love quite like chocolate

By Sylvia Fountaine For The Spokesman-Review

No other ingredient evokes the feeling of love quite like chocolate.

Bitter, sweet and nuanced, it possesses many facets. And there may be a scientific explanation for this. Consuming or even just inhaling the scent of chocolate boosts serotonin and endorphins in the brain, creating the feeling of bliss. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine, the same chemical that our brain creates when we are falling in love.

In addition to elevating mood, research shows that consuming dark chocolate is good for the heart. Compounds in chocolate help restore the flexibility of the arteries as well as help battle plaque build up.

Eating a small amount of dark chocolate each day may prevent diabetes and insulin resistance. Daily chocolate consumption is also linked to a lower risk of stroke, a reduction in memory decline and increased cognitive performance. High in antioxidants, minerals and flavonoids, chocolate protects the body. According to a recent Finnish study, eating chocolate reduces stress in expectant mothers, but even more fascinating, babies of the chocolate-eating mothers are reported to smile more than those of non-chocolate-eating moms.

Originating in Central America, chocolate dates back to 1500 BC, when the sweet white pulp of the fruit was fermented into an alcoholic drink, a tradition which was then passed on from the Olmecs to the Mayans. In fact, chocolate for most of its history up until the last few hundred years was mainly consumed as a beverage.

The word “chocolate” comes from the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which refers to a bitter frothy drink brewed from cacao beans, seasoned with cinnamon and chili peppers and thickened with corn meal.

Pouring the drink between two clay pots repeatedly created the frothy effect, and this was believed to be an aphrodisiac, giving the drinker power and strength. Perhaps this is where the love connection originates.

Today, modern versions of this drink are still consumed. One is known as “chilate” and made by people in southern Mexico.

The Spanish eventually brought chocolate to Europe, where sugar and honey were added to counteract its bitterness. It’s no surprise that soon after, Europe fell head-over-heals in love with it.

Luna pastry chef Taylor Siok remembers the moment he fell in love with chocolate.

During orientation at the Culinary Institute of America, the pastry dean invited students to view photos of the Culinary Olympics.

A very detailed chocolate tractor caught his attention. Inspired by it, Siok devoted a great deal of time during the next two and a half years to learning chocolate techniques.

These days, Siok offers many of his favorite chocolate creations at Luna, including the Salted Devil’s Chocolate, with devil’s chocolate cake, chocolate cremeux, candied hazelnuts, black salt and a chocolate “soup” poured over the top.

For a more classic option, Siok serves up chocolate beignets with a side of dipping chocolate.

“I love using chocolate in many ways,” Siok said. “But one of my favorites is as a garnish. There are so many different forms it can take. And with the selection of white, milk or dark, it can be a great accent to many dishes.”

He garnishes the Salted Devil’s Chocolate with a cocoa powder-covered dark chocolate tuile. “I also garnish our Madagascar Rice Pudding with a delicate piece of white chocolate, which you must break through to get to the pudding,” he said.

Siok also makes chocolate truffles at Luna and is in the process of adding bonbons, or hard-shelled truffles.

“The best tip I can give someone who is interested in working with chocolate is to work clean. The mess it makes can really snowball if you are not careful,” Siok said.

When it comes to flavor and complexity, chocolate has more than 600 flavor compounds. (Red wine has a measly 200.) Its uses are endless in the kitchen.

My favorite way to use chocolate is in savory dishes, adding depth and complexity to dishes such as molé, a spicy Mexican chili sauce, where a bit of dark chocolate adds the finishing touch.

Taylor’s Dark Chocolate Truffles

From Taylor Siok of Luna, Spokane

Professional pastry chefs and chocolatiers weigh ingredients for precise measurements.

200 grams heavy cream

60 grams honey

410 grams dark chocolate chips, cut into small pieces (about half the size)

40 grams dark rum (or your favorite liqueur)

Cocoa powder, as needed

Bring cream and honey to a boil and pour over chocolate in a small bowl. Stir vigorously with a rubber spatula until chocolate is melted. Whisk in rum while mixture is still warm. Spread thin on a baking sheet, and place plastic wrap directly on the surface. Let the chocolate set up at room temperature overnight. Hand roll into 1-inch balls and immediately roll in cocoa powder. Let truffles set up for at least 1 hour before serving

Note: This recipe is based on using Guittard Chocolate Chips. Some chocolates will act differently and may require using more or less.

Stuffed Poblano with Molé Negro

For the molé negro sauce

3 dried ancho chilies, seeds and stem removed, crumbed

3 dried Pasilla negro chilies, seeds and stem removed, crumbed

3 cups water

1 cup seedless prunes

1 onion, diced

5 garlic cloves, smashed

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin (ground or seeds)

1 teaspoon coriander (ground or seeds)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1-2 canned chipotle peppers, plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, more to taste

1/4 cup peanut butter (or tahini or almond butter)

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate

For the stuffed poblanos

1 cup cooked quinoa (or rice)

1 cup cooked black beans

4-6 poblano peppers, blackened

Salt and pepper, to taste

4-6 tablespoons goat cheese

Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Cilantro, for garnish

For the molé: In a small pot, place dried chilies and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn heat down and simmer covered, 10 minutes. Add prunes, stir, cover, simmer 10 more minutes, turn heat off.

At the same time, sauté the onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil, over medium high or medium heat, stirring often until deeply golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Take your time here and let them darken. Add the spices and sauté 1-2 more minutes.

Place the cooked onion mixture in a blender along with the dried chili and prunes, 1-2 chipotle peppers and the adobo sauce, and all of the liquid. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides, adding just enough water to get the blender going. Once very smooth, pour it back to the pot and heat, covered, over low heat. When warm, stir in salt, peanut butter and chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted, taste and add more salt and pepper to taste. It should taste deep and smokey, slightly spicy, salty and sweet. If bland, salt will help.

For the stuffed peppers: Blacken and blister the fresh poblanos over a gas flame or broil in the oven, turning often, until skin begins to blister and darken on most sides. Place peppers in a bowl, cover with foil, and let steam 10-15 minutes. Gently, run under cool water and peel skin off, being careful to keep pepper intact. Cut a vertical slit in the pepper and leaving stem intact, remove seeds with your fingers, rinsing the inside. Set on a paper towel, pat dry and place on greased sheet pan.

Mix cooked quinoa and black beans together, seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.

Fill the peppers halfway with the quinoa-black bean mixture. Add a tablespoon or two of goat cheese then cover with more quinoa-black bean mixture, so the goat cheese is in the middle. Set aside, (or make this ahead and refrigerate) and preheat oven (you can also microwave these right before serving).

Heat the stuffed peppers until heated through and goat cheese melts. Then, spoon the warm molé negro sauce over top. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and garnish with cilantro.

Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta with Candied Blood Oranges

For the panna cotta

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup half-and-half

1/8- 1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla or coffee flavored liqueur

Generous pinch salt

1 cup good quality bittersweet chocolate chips

1 package gelatin

1/4 cup fresh blood orange juice (regular orange juice works, too)

For the candied blood orange slices

1 blood orange, thinly sliced (regular oranges work, too)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

Make the panna cotta: In a medium pot, gently heat whipping cream and half-and-half over medium heat. Add sugar, vanilla and salt. Stir often and just bring to a simmer, taking care not to boil. Turn heat to low and whisk in chocolate chips, stirring until melted and smooth. Taste. Add more sugar if you prefer, and gently stir over low heat to dissolve. Turn heat off. In a small sauce pan, warm orange juice just slightly. Sprinkle gelatin over top, let it sit one minute, then stir with a fork until smooth. Add to the hot chocolate mixture and whisk well.

Pour into 6 ramekins, cups or glasses (stemless wineglasses or vintage cocktail glasses work well) and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight, or up to three days (covering with plastic wrap if longer than overnight).

Make candied blood orange slices: Bring sugar and water to a simmer in a small sauce pan. Add the thinly sliced oranges, coating all sides. Simmer over medium heat 20 minutes, turning occasionally until oranges become tender and syrup thickens. Turn heat to low, simmer 10-15 more minutes. Place slices on a cooling rack, reserving syrup.

Assemble: Once panna cotta is firm and oranges have cooled, place a candied blood orange slice over the top of each serving and drizzle with a little of the syrup. Serve with a small spoon or refrigerate until ready to serve (be sure to wrap with plastic wrap).

Notes: Make up to 3 days ahead and refrigerate until ready to serve. Instead of making the candied blood oranges, you could simply add a tablespoon of finely grated orange zest to the panna cotta.

To intensify the color of the candied oranges, add 1-2 slices of raw beet to the syrup while cooking, especially if you are using regular oranges.

The Seasonal Kitchen is a bi-monthly feature. Local chef Sylvia Fountaine writes about seasonal foods, sharing recipes and a passion for local foods. Fountaine is a caterer and former co-owner of Mizuna restaurant. She writes about home cooking on her blog, Feasting at Home.

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