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February 2013

Food for Thought

Guilt-free Chocolate
By Lorinda

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Have you thought of topping chicken with chocolate?
(See Holy Mole Chicken recipe.)


My enchantment with chocolate has survived intact, even after years of sneaky consumption. I've mentioned before that sweets were a rare treat in our household when I was growing up; my obsession with candy was met with bewilderment from my mother, who just didn't understand the attraction, and covert understanding from my father, who also hid goodies to avoid disapproval (and also to make sure they were available when he wanted them—there were three daughters in the house, after all.)

My oldest sister also craved chocolate and would spend her hard-earned babysitting money on a giant bag of M&M's, hiding them in a large cookie tin in our bedroom. We would run our fingers through them ecstatically, as if they were diamonds. She was generous and shared with us . . . I admire that to this day.

My strongest memories of chocolate emerged during junior high, when I would stop after school at the Rexall drugstore on the corner to buy Hershey's Kisses. They were two for a penny, and on really flush days I had a quarter to blow on them. I'd sneak them upstairs and, eating them one by one, would spoil my dinner. I'd pull the little white strip down, remove the foil, pop the candy in my mouth and let it melt slowly. Repeat. A book in one hand and a little paper bag of Kisses in the other—life was good. It still makes me smile.

Sometimes during lunch a group of us would send our friend Patty out to buy us chocolate at the corner candy store near the school. We weren't allowed to leave the school grounds, and she was the only person brave enough to flaunt the rules. Chocolate was an irresistible, guilty pleasure—certainly important enough to risk a blot on Patty's permanent record!

As time flew by and my children were born, I still ate chocolate on the sly, hiding it in my bedroom or the pantry, even though my daughter could smell chocolate on my breath for at least an hour after I indulged, and would bust me every time. This wasn't actually guilt . . . I just didn't want to share! Until they learned the difference between good chocolate and lousy chocolate, I could usually appease them with old Easter candy from the freezer. Mother of the year, I know.

That's why it was a cause for celebration when the studies proved that chocolate (dark chocolate, not my beloved milk chocolate) is actually good for us. I'm still pinching myself to make sure I'm not dreaming! None of the experts can agree on the amount of chocolate we should consume each day, but a Harvard study suggests between 3.5 and 6 ounces. Even the stodgy Mayo Clinic (which will only claim that the studies indicate chocolate is beneficial) suggests 3 ounces of chocolate containing at least 65 percent cacao per day. That is actually a lot of chocolate. It is also a lot of calories, so you might want to cut back somewhere else, like green vegetables. (Just kidding!)

Remember, the higher cacao content, the healthier the chocolate is for you. You may have to train your taste buds to appreciate bitter chocolate; pucker up and try to save milk chocolate for an occasional treat. Ideally we should be chewing unsweetened cocoa beans, but even I am not that hard core.

The possible health benefits of dark chocolate are staggering. Even with the various recommendations and cautions, it appears that regularly eating dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure, improve bad cholesterol, reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, help to keep your blood sugar steady, improve skin, and possibly help with age-related memory loss. (See Chocolate Can Do Good Things for Your Heart, Skin, and Brain.)

An interesting note: Since chocolate can lower blood pressure and increase blood flow, there has been a comparison of dark chocolate to Viagra. It's still in the early stages of testing, but it looks promising. Hey, the Aztecs considered chocolate an aphrodisiac, and I'm guessing they weren't popping little blue pills.

In a study published by the American Heart Association, there was a measurable difference in the size of arteries (more open, allowing better blood flow) and platelet adhesion (less sticking) in heart transplant patients who ate 40 grams (almost 1.5 ounces) of dark chocolate two hours before testing. This is huge; it indicates almost instant benefits. (See Dark Chocolate Improves Coronary Vasomotion and Reduces Platelet Reactivity.)

So we know that the best option is to eat 1 to 3 ounces of the darkest, least processed chocolate (organic is best) we can find, on a regular basis. But this is February, and Valentine's Day calls for some goodies, right? For once I am offering recipes that are tasty and much healthier than my usual butter/cream/sugar concoctions.

Let's start with breakfast. Here is a recipe for bran muffins that isn't too sweet and contains heart-healthy cocoa.


Chocolate Banana Bran Muffins


Here are some meringue cookies made with egg whites. They have very little fat and literally melt in your mouth. I made two variations for you to try.


Chocolate Pecan Meringues and Cherry Meringues


For Valentine's dinner (if you aren't being wined and dined) I offer lightly breaded chicken breasts with a mole-type sauce. Don't skip the cashews and green onions; they add a very pleasant tactile interest to each bite. It's a quick and easy recipe, and the blend of flavors will make you a fan. If you're trying to impress a date, you might want to cut back on the garlic, though. Just sayin'.


Holy Mole Chicken


Here's to guilt-free chocolate indulgence and healthy hearts!


Contact Lorinda at lorindamckinnon@gmail.com

Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Also enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.


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