KITCHEN DIVA: I 'heart' Valentine's Day

Culinary historian and chef Angela Shelf Medearis shares her love of all things chocolate from milk chocolate to the dark chocolates that have heart-healthy benefits. 

Is chocolate a guilty treat or a great-tasting, heart-healthy indulgence? Do you use chocolate to boost your mood, or reserve it for special celebrations? Chocolate has been considered an aphrodisiac food since the time of Aztecs.

It’s said to contain a substance that inflames desire and makes the beloved one more open to romance. Whatever your reason for choosing chocolate, emerging research shows there may be some health benefits to consuming certain types of chocolate.

This is wonderful news for chocolate lovers and for anyone who enjoys celebrating Valentine’s Day! Unsweetened cocoa and dark chocolate appear to be healthier choices than other kinds of chocolate. Dark chocolate also is a delicious, heart-healthy choice for Valentine’s Day.

Blood pressure, cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity have all been shown to improve from the flavonoids in the cocoa bean. Other research suggests that eating chocolate makes us feel good — something self-professed chocoholics already know.

Chocolate helps reduce stress and has other positive, mood-boosting psychological effects. Chocolate also may be connected to neurotransmitters boosting mood and lowering anxiety. Research is still preliminary, so nutrition experts don’t recommend eating chocolate for those health benefits alone, but the research is something chocolate lovers will watch.

So how much dark chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder is the potential ticket to good health? None of the studies to date have determined the optimal daily serving. Many health experts are comfortable recommending daily dark chocolate in small amounts — an ounce or two daily — if it’s a food you already enjoy and can afford it in your calorie budget.

Making chocolate milk with unsweetened cocoa powder (containing 82% cocoa) stirred into skim milk and sweetened with stevia — as opposed to the highly processed and sugar-sweetened version typically found on supermarket shelves — is a healthy choice.

In one study, chocolate-milk drinkers who used the healthy drink recipe showed marked improvement in heart health, including a boost to the “good” HDL cholesterol. Not all chocolate is created equal: The higher the cocoa content, the greater the health benefits from flavonoids, which help protect against aging and some chronic diseases. Following unsweetened cocoa powder on the list for highest percentage of cocoa is unsweetened baking chocolate and dark chocolate.

Studies suggest that eating dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa improves cardiovascular health. Semisweet chocolate and milk chocolate are lower in cocoa content. A final word of caution: check the ingredients label to see where sugar is listed. The further down the list the better, because that indicates a smaller amount of sugar.

Weigh the extra calories in chocolate before you spend them — and then enjoy every morsel! My recipe for Dark Chocolate Delights are bonbons that are simple to make and the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for the health and happiness of the ones you love.

Dates are a sweet and “delightful” ingredient in these dark chocolate bonbons. Dates are rich in calcium, sulfur, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, copper and magnesium, which are all advantageous for health. Have a happy (and heart-healthy) Valentine’s Day!

DARK CHOCOLATE DELIGHTS

1 cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1 cup stevia powdered sugar (see recipe below)

1 cup dates, chopped (not the prepackaged, chopped type)

1½ tablespoons butter, softened, divided

1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

1½ cup dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut, optional

To make sugar-free powdered sugar:

1 cup stevia (like Truvia Baking Blend or Whole Earth Baking Blend)

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Combine the stevia and cornstarch in a blender or food processor. Combine the ingredients on high until it creates the look and consistency of traditional powdered sugar. Use in the recipe as directed. Makes 1 cup.

To make the BonBons:

1. Using a large bowl, combine peanut butter, pecans, stevia powdered sugar, dates and 1 tablespoon butter, and mix well. Form mixture into 1-inch balls. Set aside in refrigerator to harden, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, melt the semisweet chips in a large glass measuring cup or medium bowl in the microwave on medium power (or on defrost setting), about 2 minutes, stirring once after 1 minute, until melted and smooth.

3. Stir in remaining dark chocolate chips and stir constantly until smooth (this cools and tempers the chocolate, setting up crystals so it will harden). Stir in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter to bring the chocolate to a glossy finish.

4. Dip each bonbon ball into the melted chocolate mixture and set the bonbons on wax paper or parchment paper. Sprinkle with shredded coconut, if desired. Let stand until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Store tightly covered at room temperature. Makes about 32 bonbons.

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her website is www.divapro.com. © 2021 King Features Synd., Inc.

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