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Chocolate isn't just for dessert anymore

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As the third-most chocolatized holiday of the year - behind Easter and Christmas, based on U.S. retail sales - there will be plenty of the sweet stuff making the rounds for Valentine's Day, most of it stuffed inside a heart-shaped box.

That's not necessarily a bad thing.

But have you ever thought about surprising the one you love with chocolate for dinner? Not candy on a plate, but chocolate used to flavor a savory entree.

The Mexicans stir dark chocolate into amazing moles, traditional rich, dark red/brown sauces featuring peppers, spices, cinnamon, chocolate and usually nuts (almonds), seeds (pumpkin/pepitas) and raisins. I've also tasted nice chili spiked with chocolate.

Both not only taste great, but dark chocolate offers the added benefit of heart-healthy antioxidants and flavonoids. It's also National Heart Month, you know.   

So check out this week's recipes for cocoa chicken (dusted with dark cocoa powder, brown sugar, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper) and roasted cocoa cauliflower risotto (flavored with dark cocoa, smoked paprika, garlic, onions, butter and Fontina).

Maybe serving your sweetie chocolate for dinner and dessert will reward you double, too.

***

If you are cooking in tomorrow night, chocolate-covered strawberries are a romantic finale to any evening. They pair perfectly with a bottle of bubbly and are pretty easy to make.

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

1. In a microwave-safe bowl, place 16 ounces of milk or dark chocolate chips and microwave on high, stopping to stir every 30 seconds until melted.

2. Once melted, grab a strawberry by its stem and dip it into the chocolate, swirling until coated. Allow the excess to drip off and then place on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet.

3. Once all strawberries have been dipped, place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator to allow the chocolate to harden. Remove and let come to room temperature before serving, maybe with a little fresh whipped cream.

***

Whipped cream not sensual enough for you? Make a batch of "Kinky Cookies."

That's the title of a cookbook I just received (unsolicited, of course) inviting me to whip up a batch of "provocatively dressed, quirky, decadent cookies that will tantalize or maybe scandalize" your next Valentine's Day, bachelorette party or romantic dinner.

It's pretty funny.

The cover is innocent enough, showing an edible six-pack o' abs and a saucy French maid's costume. Inside, you'll find cookie designs ranging from rated G (high heels and lace) to PG (puckered lips and pierced midriffs) to blush-worthy (bare bottoms, breasts, handcuffs and happy sperm).

I wouldn't pick up a copy for your mom, but it would make a pretty fun gift for your mate.

A small hardcover book featuring 96 pages and 40 color photos, "Kinky Cookies" by Joanna Farrow retails for $12.99.

***

Instead of cooking dinner in, many couples prefer to celebrate Valentine's Day with a special meal out. For any new couples or bold first dates who fall into that category, Chef Fabio Viviani of "Top Chef" fame offers these dining dos and don'ts for the big day:

* DO . . . stick to light bites. Go for tapas, sushi or happy hour. Sharing food keeps it casual, making conversation flow much easier.

* DON'T . . . go "whole hog." Avoid ribs, BBQ or any full-blown Texas meal. In addition to being incredibly messy, eating 10 pounds of brisket just doesn't scream romance.

* DO . . . go light on the spice. Many people cannot tolerate the heat, and overly spicy food can affect your palate, making other foods not taste as good as they should.

* DON'T . . . order anything featuring mint or cilantro. Along with too much soy sauce, these herbs are known to put the brakes on your, uh, mojo.

And if you're planning a first-date meal out, a recent poll of more than 25,000 users of Match.com voted Italian as the most romantic choice.

Contact writer Steven Keith at dailymailfoodguy@aol.com or 304-348-1721. You can also follow him on Facebook and Pinterest as "DailyMail FoodGuy," on Twitter as "DMFoodGuy" or read his blog at http://blogs.daily mail.com/foodguy/.

RECIPES

Cocoa chicken

1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

3/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast

2 Tbsp. butter or butter spread

1. Combine cocoa, brown sugar, salt, paprika and cayenne in a small bowl and mix; set aside.

2. Pound or slice chicken breast into 1/4-inch-thick fillets. Sprinkle cocoa mixture over fillets until well coated. In two batches, cook chicken in buttery spread over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet until browned on both side and cooked through. Slice and serve on a bed of rice.

Serves 6. Recipe courtesy Smart Balance.

Roasted cocoa cauliflower risotto

1/2 small head cauliflower, broken into large florets (about 3 cups)

1 Tbsp. cooking oil

3/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1 tsp. dark cocoa

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/3 cup chopped onion

1 small clove garlic

1 Tbsp. butter or butter spread

1 cup dry Arborio rice

3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, heated

1 oz. Fontana cheese, shredded

1. Blanch cauliflower in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain immediately and cool with cold water, then drain. Pat dry and place in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with oil and toss to mix.

2. Combine paprika, cocoa, salt and pepper and sprinkle over cauliflower. Toss until mixed and transfer to a baking sheet. Roast cauliflower at 475 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove and cool. Chop cauliflower into small pieces and set aside.

3. Saute onion and garlic in butter until softened, then stir in rice. Add 1/2 cup warm broth and cook and stir until almost all is evaporated. Continue to add broth (half a cup at a time and cooking until almost evaporated before adding more) until rice is tender. Stir in cheese until melted. Stir in chopped cauliflower before serving.

Serves 6. Recipe courtesy Smart Balance.

 

 


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