Monday, February 14, 2011

To all you chocoholics, fantasies can come true…

For those who know me well, they are well aware of my chocolate addiction. And as you can tell from my last posting, I love dessert and baking. But dessert just isn’t dessert without some aspect of chocolate, especially on Valentine’s Day! It tastes so good, it can’t be good for you, right? Turns out fantasies can come true; chocolate can do more for you than give you comfort...

Why have you done a good thing?

Cocoa has been used for 1000’s of years for medicinal purposes, since the time of ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations. Without all the fancy research of today, these societies knew that chocolate had wonderful benefits. Today, science has shown that 100% pure cocoa powder has been found to reduce your risk of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer by 10% due to a mega dose of cocoa flavanoids in their activities as antioxidants.

Some studies have even shown that cocoa can have a positive effect on mood, helping those suffering from depression.

But not all chocolate is created equal! Cocoa content of chocolate varies, with milk chocolates having as little as 15-20% cocoa and some dark chocolates ranging up to 85% cocoa. The higher the percentage of cocoa in your chocolate the better. Researchers at Cornell University found that eating cocoa powder is the best way to obtain health benefits from cocoa, as pure cocoa has the lowest percentage of saturated fats compared to milk and dark chocolates. For the best health benefits, use 100% non-alkalinized cocoa powder from a quality manufacturer.

So after a long day, it’s ok to reach for some chocolate: 1 portion is 1 oz of dark chocolate (the darker the better, and more satisfying!).

Or for something decadent, here is that low-fat brownie recipe I promised you. I made them last weekend and they are sooo fudgy!!

Decadent Fudgy Brownies (serves 12-14)

8 ounces dark chocolate bar, chopped

1 cup all purpose or cake flour

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda

2 large eggs

1 cup packed light brown sugar

½ cup applesauce

6 oz plain, vanilla or coffee low-fat yogurt

1 tbsp canola oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

½ bag dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray.

Melt 8 ounces dark chocolate bar in a double boil over simmering water, stirring occasionally (meaning put a bowl on top over a pot of water).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda. In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar until smooth. Add the yogurt, applesauce, oil, and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the melted chocolate and beat until blended. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined (do not overmix). Gently mix in the chocolate chips.

Transfer the mixture the pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until edges have started to pull away from sides of pan and brownies looks like they have set. (Does not jiggle in the middle). Toothpick should NOT come out clean. Do not overbake. Allow to cool for 30 minutes and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Cut into squares and enjoy!

You can even cook savory dishes with dark chocolate:

Try this Cocoa Flank Steak recipe or Vegetable Chili Recipe with a chocolate twist

Or to escape from this cold, try making your own hot chocolate instead of reaching for a pre-made packet. You’ll avoid all the chemicals, high sugar, and added trans-fats and saturated fats from store-bought hot chocolate. Use 1% or skim milk and hot cocoa as a great way to boost your calcium intake, especially if you or your kids don’t like the taste of plain milk.

Homemade Hot Cocoa (don’t worry, it’s very simple!!) (2 servings)

2 ½ cup Skim or 1% milk (can also use soy milk)

1 tbsp and 1 tsp unsweetened 100% cocoa powder

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp instant espresso/coffee powder (optional)

Simmer the milk gently with cinnamon on stove top. Remove from heat and add cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, and if using espresso and whisk vigorously. Put back on stove top over low heat until warmed for drinking. Serve immediately.

You can also substitute espresso for chili powder for some spicy Mexican hot cocoa!

Enjoy a warm mug of hot cocoa for a satisfying weeknight dessert or a decadent chocolate brownie with your sweetie. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

--Amy Santo, MS RD

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