When February rolls around, my mind wanders to thoughts of chocolate. I guess that is because every time I go into a store, I see those cute little heart-shaped boxes filled to the brim with candy. I always thought of chocolate as an indulgence, but lately I keep hearing that dark chocolate has many health benefits — so, bring it on!
Chocolate bars and bon bons are fine, but I like using chocolate in other ways. My all-time favorite way is on strawberries. Chocolate-covered strawberries look fancy when purchased from a candy store, but they are so easy to make, why bother buying them?
I love to dip the strawberries and, while the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle chopped nuts, coconut or sprinkles on them. I also like to dip the strawberries in one color chocolate and drizzle a different color chocolate over them. They taste fabulous and look like a million bucks.
If you think they are difficult to make, think again. I have included recipes for chocolate-covered strawberries in my kids’ cooking classes, and 8-year-olds have made fantastic chocolate masterpieces.
I also like to make chocolate cups, which I fill with fruit, mousse, ice cream or anything else my imagination dreams up. Occasionally, I find chocolate cups in the grocery store, but they can be difficult to find, so I usually make my own.
The easiest way I have found is to use cupcake liners as a form. To make chocolate cups, melt and temper the chocolate. Brush the bottom and sides of a paper or silicone cupcake liner with chocolate. (A pastry brush works well for this.) Cover the liner well, spreading the chocolate evenly. Refrigerate for a few minutes. Once the chocolate has solidified, carefully pull off the liner. Now you can fill the chocolate cups with whatever delicious concoction you desire.
I enjoy dark chocolate, but semi-sweet and white chocolate will also work for these uses. Just make sure to temper the chocolate before using it. If you do not want to take the time to temper, you might want to try using a confectionary coating, such as Wilton Melts. They are easy to use, and you do not have to temper them. They are available at craft stores, such as Michaels or Jo-Ann.
If you are not a fan of sweets, I have another favorite way to get a chocolate fix: I love to use unsweetened cocoa powder in savory dishes, such as chili. It adds a nice background flavor, and it doesn’t taste like chocolate. You do not have to add a lot of cocoa powder to get the great taste. Just do not use a sweetened cocoa; you do not want your savory dishes to taste like they came from a candy shop.
• Judy A. Toth is the owner of Simply Impressive Cooking School in Mesa. Her column appears the second Wednesday of the month. Reach her at (480) 654-1981 or www.SimplyImpressive.com