Chocolate Sunday (with no chocolate) – Experiment #2, Carob Almond Butter Cups

This week – the second week of my elimination diet – I had some cravings for chocolate, but didn’t succumb. There’s still a week to go before I start adding foods back in.

I don’t remember ever using carob powder before – why would I, if I could use (and eat) real cocoa? But this is definitely the time to try. Last week I found a tempting recipe for Homemade Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, and adapted it using almond butter.

carob almond butter cupI used a mini-muffin pan instead of a regular one, so that I’d have more treats, and so that each one would be smaller.

Although the almond butter cups didn’t satisfy my chocolate craving, they satisfied my craving to have “a treat.” I made a big mistake when I was preparing the carob mixture – I forgot to add sweetener until halfway through the recipe. So I ended up with almond butter sandwiched between unsweetened carob bottoms and sweetened carob tops. Trust me – it needs sweetener.

If I make the recipe again, I would increase the amount of almond butter. Then again, with the bottom layer properly sweetened, it might be okay as is.

The health benefits of chocolate have been widely touted, but this Whole Foods Market blog post offers information on the advantages of carob.

Carob Almond Butter Cups

1/2 cup carob powder

1 cup almond milk, divided

maple syrup to taste (1-2 tbsp.)

2 tbsp. almond butter (or more)

1. In small pot, whisk together carob powder and half cup almond milk. Bring to a boil over medium-low, whisking constantly.

2. Add remaining almond milk a bit at a time, still whisking constantly, until thick and creamy.

3. Stir in maple syrup.

4. Pour 1 1/2 tsp. of carob mixture in each of 12 lined muffin cups, and freeze about 15 minutes until set.

5. Spoon 1/2 tsp. or more almond butter onto carob base, smooth out, and freeze again until hardened.

6. Finish with one more layer of carob mixture, and freeze again.

Enjoy!

 

Chocolate Sunday (with no chocolate) – Experiment #1, Almond Butter Treats

Last Sunday, I started an elimination diet that excludes a whole bunch of foods I might be sensitive to, including caffeine and sugar. No chocolate for me for the next few weeks – yikes!

So far, so good. I’m not a big coffee or black tea drinker, and I try to eat chocolate in moderation, so I didn’t get the headache that can accompany caffeine withdrawal.

I’m also making sure there’s lots of food in the house that I can eat, so I don’t feel deprived.

I just had a protein smoothie and added blueberries and ripe banana to it. After a week without refined sugar, I appreciate the sweetness of the fruit in a new way – an unanticipated benefit.

But sometimes you just want a treat you can eat instead of drink, or one that melts in your mouth like chocolate.

I hadn’t thought to ask, but my naturopath suggested a treat made of almond butter and coconut oil melted together with cinnamon and salt, and frozen.

almond butter treats

My almond butter treats

It’s not technically a recipe, but I’m including it in recipe form below.

But first, the results of this little experiment:

1. I used relatively small amounts of almond butter and coconut oil, and I would stick to small quantities because I found it hard to eat just one. I did cut the squares very small, though, about 1/2 an inch.

2. My husband, who is on a regular diet, found the treats resistible. Maybe the elimination diet has moderated my sweet tooth.

3. The almond butter treats are very smooth, and melt in your mouth. In that way, they’re a bit of a substitute for chocolate. They melt in your hands too, if you hold them too long!

Almond Butter Treats

1/4 cup almond butter

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 tsp cinnamon, or to taste

sea salt to taste (not too much, but not too little either – it enhanced the flavour a lot)

1. Melt almond butter and coconut oil on medium low, stirring with wooden spoon until smooth and blended.

2. Stir in cinnamon and sea salt.

3. Transfer to small container. Mine is about 5″ x 3″.

4. Freeze until solid. Refrigerating might work too.

5. Cut into small squares (may need to soften at room temperature first).

6. Store in fridge.

Enjoy!

 

 

Chocolate Sunday – Chocolate Strawberries, and Chocolate Pomegranate Clusters!

I’ve been making chocolate-covered strawberries for years, but this week I learned something new about the process.

chocolate strawberries & pomegranate clustersIt hadn’t occurred to me to look for instructions – how hard is it to melt chocolate and dip strawberries in it? But, because I was planning to blog about it, I looked online to see what was already there.

I found this recipe, which recommends placing the strawberries stem-side down to allow the chocolate to dry. Light-bulb moment – I realized that my chocolate never dried smoothly in the past because I placed the strawberries sideways, not upright. There was always a flat side to the chocolate.

chocolate strawberries on cookie sheetThe recipe also suggests placing the fresh-dipped strawberries on a wire rack. I missed that bit, probably because I was multi-tasking and had already put waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Strawberry stems are not inherently flat, and some of them didn’t want to stand up. But if I was very careful about placing them just so against the sides of the sheet, I was able to compensate for that.

Strawberries are on the “dirty dozen” produce list, so I try to buy organic when I can to avoid pesticides. I had found gorgeous strawberries at Organic Garage, and wanted to make sure to use them quickly.

I used only the perfect ones for dipping, and cut up the rest for breakfast the next morning.

You can melt almost any chocolate for dipping. I used three squares each from two large Lindt chocolate bars, one with 70 percent cacao content (“dark”) and the other with 85 percent (“intense dark”). The dark chocolate is twice as sweet as the intense dark (8 grams of sugar per three squares, compared to 4), and I thought the mix would be a good compromise.

After I dipped the strawberries, I coated pomegranate seeds with the remaining chocolate. In all, there was enough chocolate for about 15 strawberries and just over a dozen pomegranate clusters.

The strawberries looked more elegant, but the pomegranate seed clusters were more interesting, with fruity bursts of liquid inside each bite-sized cluster.

My niece makes chocolate blueberry clusters, which are equally refreshing. I thought about making them too, and found a recipe here. But in the end, I had just the right ratio of chocolate to fruit without the blueberries.

Chocolate Strawberries, and Chocolate Pomegranate Clusters

15 perfect strawberries

1/3 to 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (I’m guessing the amount; forgot to measure!)

3 squares Lindt dark chocolate (from 100-gram bar)

3 squares Lindt intense dark chocolate (from 100-gram bar)

1. Line cookie sheet with waxed paper or parchment paper.

2. Wash strawberries, and dry gently but thoroughly with paper towel.

3. Spread pomegranate seeds on paper towel to dry, placing more paper towel on top of the seeds to dry them completely.

4. Melt chocolate in pyrex bowl on low heat in microwave, checking frequently to make sure it doesn’t overheat. Great instructions here, if you want more information.

5. Stir chocolate to ensure it is completely melted, and to combine the two types.

6. Dip dried strawberries into chocolate, letting excess chocolate drip back into bowl.

7. Place strawberries stem-side down on lined cookie sheet to dry.

8. Add dried pomegranate seeds to remaining chocolate, and stir together to coat the seeds.

9. Using two teaspoons, form clusters of pomegranate seeds, and place on cookie sheet to dry.

10. Put cookie sheet in fridge for 15 minutes to allow chocolate to set, or leave at room temperature until set.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Sunday – On the (Jewish) Chocolate Trail!

Consider yourself warned: Reading On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, by Rabbi Deborah Prinz, could result in an irresistible urge to try something new and chocolatey.

It happened to me on page 42, after reading about U.S. colonial-era chocolate houses (like coffee houses, but with a different focus). On the adjacent page was a 217-year-old recipe for spiced drinking chocolate that sent me straight to my kitchen.

But instead of reaching for chocolate, cinnamon sticks and star anise – all of which I had on hand and considered using to concoct my own drink – I decided to open the Aztec Blood drinking chocolate that my husband bought on a whim before the weather turned cold. The solid chocolate, made by Chocosol, is blended with hot water to make a rich, spicy beverage that, for me, was the perfect accompaniment to the book.

drinking chocolate cup

Quality, not quantity – my small serving of spiced drinking chocolate.

I heard Rabbi Prinz speak at Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Synagogue on Tuesday night. An engaging lecturer who spent six years researching and writing her book, she cemented her chocolate bona fides with a confession about a stop in Turin, Italy. The rabbi and her husband – also a rabbi – were so caught up in their chocolate adventures that they left the city without visiting or thinking about the Shroud of Turin until their daughter asked if they’d seen it.

It was interesting for me to hear about bicerin, a layered drink with hot chocolate, coffee and cream that Rabbi Prinz tried in Turin, and again in Toronto, at SOMA, in the Distillery district. She said it’s available in only four cities in the world. I’ll have to try it next time I’m at the Distillery – one of my favourite places to take out-of-town visitors.

It was also interesting to hear about the intertwining of Jewish and chocolate history in Bayonne, France – both of which have connections to conversos who fled the Inquisition in nearby Spain and Portugal.

The rabbi’s talk, and her book, were/are filled with much information about chocolate’s connection to other religions as well as Judaism. Her book, released this year by Jewish Lights Publishing, is supplemented by recipes, copious footnotes, and a list of chocolate museums and factory tours.

I was delighted by the timing of her talk, which provided me with material for a Jewish-themed blog entry right in the middle of Chanukah. Plus, I won a lovely basket of chocolate that evening!

In a recent Huffington post column, Rabbi Prinz included the recipe for Peanut Butter Gelt Cookies from her book – simple, gluten-free cookies topped with chocolate Chanukah gelt.

For more information about Rabbi Prinz and her book, go to her website at http://www.jews-onthechocolatetrail.org/.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Sunday – Spicy Flourless Mexican Cookies!

I love when I make a recipe that I have misgivings about, but it turns out to be great.

Earlier this week, I saw this recipe for Flourless Mexican Chocolate Cookies with Spicy Roasted Pepitas on a blog called Kitchen Testedspicy mexican cookies

It appealed to me for several reasons:

1. The chocolate flavour.

2. The cookies are gluten-free.

3. They’re also dairy-free.

4. They’re sweetened with maple syrup and agave or honey, not refined sugar.

5. The spiced pumpkin seeds suggested added health benefits, and – together with the chocolate chips – promised an interesting combination of taste and texture.

6. I had all the ingredients on hand.

But I wasn’t convinced the recipe would work, and I usually avoid recipes that have recipes within them, when I’m pressed for time. However, roasting the pumpkin seeds with spices and oil before preparing the cookie dough wasn’t time-consuming, and I mixed the ingredients on a lined cookie sheet instead of in a bowl. One less item to wash.

pumpkin seeds spice oil

Pumpkin seeds, spices and olive oil

pumpkin seeds roasted

Twenty minutes later

Once I tasted the roasted pumpkin seeds, I found them a touch too spicy – at least for my taste. I decided to divide the dough in two, and leave one half plain, while using only half the amount of pumpkin seeds called for, in the other half of the cookie dough.

Even my mother preferred the finished product with the pumpkin seeds, not only for the health benefits but for the taste. That took me by surprise – I was sure the cookies would be too spicy for her.

“Delicious,” she said.

Chocolate Sunday – The Great Chocolate Beet experiment!

A few days ago, I found this article about beets in the online Jewish magazine Tablet, and thought, “Seriously?”

rogelach

My chocolate beet rugelach aren’t pink!

The article, by food blogger Amy Kritzer, is accompanied by a recipe for chocolate beet rugelach (recipe link is on left side of the Tablet magazine article) and a picture showing the brightly hued dough. Seriously? Um, yes.

But my skepticism about fuchsia-coloured rugelach changed to enthusiasm after I checked out Kritzer’s Jewish food blog. I admired her beautiful pictures and creative recipes, not to mention her culinary school training.

I also realized I had all the ingredients for her rugelach at home. Well, not cream cheese exactly, but the Tofutti version, which I was planning to use in a recipe before it expires next year. Sigh.

And I had just bought some golden beets. No reason not to use them instead of the red ones.

I hadn’t made rugelach in years, especially with cream cheese dough. I don’t bake as often as I used to, and I’ve become lactose-intolerant. But this recipe would be a treat for Chanukah, which begins in 10 days.

I made the rugelach last night, using the best chocolate I had in the house – Lindt 70% cacao. I used only part of the dough – I’ll bake the rest today – but I made the filling with less than two cups of chocolate, and I think it may be enough.

Buttery dough, oozing chocolate, straight out of the oven. Decadent. Even better today, I think, with little chunks of chocolate studding the pastry. My son says you can’t taste the beets. And the rogelach aren’t pink!

Enjoy!

Chocolate Sunday – Reading material!

I like to take books with me when I travel, and I was away twice in October – first in Sacramento, then in Charleston – so I’ve been doing more reading than usual lately.

Just for fun, and because my family gave me an e-reader for my birthday, I searched “chocolate” in the Kobo books website, and came up with almost 700 hits.

I downloaded two works of fiction and a memoir. The memoir – Chocolate Chocolate by Frances Park & Ginger Park – turned out to be my favourite.

It’s the story of two sisters with no business experience who opened a chocolate shop in Washington, D.C. and turned it into a success over the next 25 years – with help from their newly widowed Korean immigrant mother and a cast of sometimes unlikely characters.

Aside from the chocolate content, the book deals with following a dream, surmounting obstacles, becoming a writer, mourning a parent, finding love, and building a new life as an immigrant.

I found myself highlighting many lines, my new litmus test for whether a book is worth reading. Although I love reading on paper, I’ve never highlighted any books other than textbooks. It’s easy to do on an e-reader and it doesn’t “damage” the book in the same way.

The Park sisters’ website can be found here, and the website for their store here. The book left me not only craving a taste of chocolate, but thinking that anything is possible.

Chocolate Sunday in Toronto, Part 2

I returned home from Toronto’s third annual Luxury Chocolate Show, the culmination of the city’s eighth chocolate festival, with a couple of little treasures and a lot of literature.

Among the “treasures” were three hand crafted artisan chocolate bonbons from Succulent Chocolates – with fennel seed, pistachio cinnamon, and vanilla bean fillings – and pumpkin chai truffles (pumpkin and chai tea ganache in hand-painted milk chocolate) by Toronto chocolatier Laura Slack. Decadent.

And delicious! I know because I sampled two of the four flavours at the show. But I’m saving the ones I brought home for another day – I think I hit my saturation point this afternoon.

It was fun to sample chocolate paired with wine, to see whimsical creations like the chocolate shoes chocolate shoesat left from Montreal-based chocoStyle, and to discover fancy chocolates like the ones pictured at right from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. newfoundland chocs

I spent several hours at the show with two friends, and we had a great time. But we missed out on hand or neck massages with cocoa products, and also on most of the demonstrations.

We’ll have to go back next year.

Chocolate Sunday — Doubly Sweet, Y’all

Discovered these honey-filled chocolates at the Savannah Bee Company in Charleston, South Carolina this weekend.20131027-093316.jpg

Just got back this afternoon after a brief trip to Charleston. The honey-filled chocolates appealed to me for their whimsical design – gold-dusted dark chocolate squares filled with sourwood honey and embossed with a distinctive bee in a circle, as well as their silver-dusted equivalents filled with palmetto honey. It’s just the right amount of honey, too – enough to taste, but not so much that it becomes cloying or messy to eat.

The Charleston store is the company’s first location outside of Savannah, and I see from the website that they don’t ship outside of the United States, so I’m glad I happened on the store.

I don’t remember seeing other chocolate items, but I was hyped about the different types of honey (and opportunities to taste them), as well as the variety of related products.

Charleston has much to offer visitors – great restaurants and museums, historic sites, antebellum architecture, and walking paths along the river. I was charmed by the Fashion in Fiction display at the Charleston Museum, running now through April 6, and by our visit to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, a synagogue dating back to 1749.

The honey store was a bonus.