Ingredient SpotLight

There are few food items on the planet that evoke the kind of devotion that chocolate does. There are those out there that would swear off many of life's other pleasures before saying goodbye to the rich, velvety taste that chocolate brings to us. And, with recent health studies singing the praises of this favored sweet, we may yet be able to smile as we add a nibble here and there to our regular diets.

Chocolate is made from the seeds of a tropical tree called the cacao. Grown in warm, moist climates, most of the world's supply is provided by West Africa. There are many types of chocolate, ranging from the relatively unrefined unsweetened chocolate -- mainly used for baking -- to milk chocolate, which has many added ingredients ranging from milk to sugar. There is even white chocolate, which is not technically a chocolate at all since it has no cocoa solids in it ... just cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla.

Chocolate has long been associated with romance and love. Even the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, who were among the first known cultivators of cocoa, drank rich cups of chocolate as a source of wisdom, power and sexual prowess. Today, chocolate is still at the heart of romance (okay, I couldn't resist that one). According to the Chocolate Manufacturer's Association of America, 36 million boxes of chocolate are sold each year for Valentine's Day.

With a love affair like that, I thought it important to showcase some recipes that take advantage of chocolate in unusual ways. There's a savory Mexican dish that pairs spicy peppers with chocolate and a traditional mug of hot chocolate that isn't so traditional after all! Combine them with a biscotti recipe that's easy and delicious, and you've got a great way to give praise to our on-going love affair with chocolate!

Mexican Mole Sauce

This intense sauce is often paired with chicken, although it also works nicely with salmon and roasted pork. Mole is pronounced "MOH-leh" and is a favorite in many Mexican homes.
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 c. chopped red onions
  • 4 dried Ancho chilies
  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 3 c. chicken stock
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 2 slices white bread, cubed
  • 1/4 c. dried cherries
  • 1/4 c. raisins
  • 1/4 c. dried apricots
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

In a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the garlic in the hot pan. Add the onions, chilies, and tomatoes. Continue to sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until the chilies and tomatoes are softened.

Add the vinegar, chicken stock, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, bread, cherries, currents, and apricots to the pan. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the mixture to rest for 30 minutes.

In a blender, purée the mixture and strain, pressing on the solids to extract all of the liquid. Return the strained liquid to the saucepan and whisk in the chocolate. If the sauce is too thick, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to attain the desired consistency. Serve warm over roasted chicken, pork or salmon.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Spiced Hot Chocolate

The more you whip this beverage, the better the result will be! I highly recommend using a hand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
  • 1/2 c. cocoa
  • 1 T. flour
  • 1/4 c. dark brown sugar
  • 4 c. milk
  • 3 cloves -- whole
  • 1 cinnamon stick -- broken
  • 2 T. powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mix the cocoa and flour in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the brown sugar, milk, cloves, and cinnamon stick. Heat the mixture until almost boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly; reduce the heat. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes (DO NOT boil). Remove the mixture from the heat; remove the cloves and cinnamon. Stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat with wire whisk or hand mixer until foamy. Pour the mixture into mugs. If desired, serve with whipped cream and cinnamon sticks.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Chocolate-Almond Biscotti

Yes, that's right. These double baked cookies are based on readily available cake mix. I'll also add that they are delicious and I'm not the sort who would likely make biscotti if I didn't have a recipe this easy.
  • 1 pkg. chocolate cake mix
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 c. canola oil
  • 2 T. almond extract
  • 2 c. toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with lip on all sides.

Combine all of the ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared jelly roll pan and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven, but keep the oven on. Slice the cookies into thirds (the long way) and across in 1/2-inch slices. Remove half the slices and spread them out on another jelly roll pan (ungreased) and return both pan to the oven for 3-10 minutes or until crisp and golden.

Cool the cookies on a wire rack and store in an air-right container.

  • Yields: about 2 dozen cookies
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes