The Story of Chocolate & Health (+nutty chocolate brittle)

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The story of how chocolate began to become the darling of confectioners and scientists alike is wrapped up in the story of Alfred Nobel – of the “Nobel” that initiated the peace prize, no less.  Since this month’s RecipeRedux features favorite chocolate pairings (I haven’t met a dietitian yet who wasn’t a least a moderately serious chocolate lover), I did some digging to find out where all the buzz about chocolate and health started, and was fascinated by what I found.  As explained the journal Nutrients, it started with a bang:

“Ascanio Sobrero (1812–1888) traveled from Turin, Italy, to Paris, in the mid-19th century, to work under the renowned chemist Theophile-Jules Pelouze. In Pelouze’s laboratory Sobrero uncovered the reaction whereby mixing glycerol with nitric and sulfuric acids created an explosion, except if the mixture was cooled during the reaction process. This new compound was labeled: nitroglycerine (NG)…Records indicate that Sobrero tasted nitroglycerine and found it sweet, but warned “precaution should be used, for a very minute quantity put upon the tongue produces a violent headache” [6]. Four years later, Alfred Nobel sought tutelage in Pelouze’s laboratory…Nobel’s family was in the road/tunnel construction business in Sweden. Recognizing the financial potential of such a product, Nobel returned with NG to Stockholm. Nobel was concerned with world peace, supported the humanities, and of course valued scientific discoveries. He bequeathed his entire estate to a trust designed to award those, who through their hard work and discoveries, might change the world. Thus, the origins of the Nobel Prize can be linked back to nitroglycerine.

Nobel suffered from poor health and intense pain related to angina pectoris. He was advised, coincidently, to take NG for his heart complaint. At the time, it seemed incredulous to Nobel to consume a compound utilized in road construction. Seven weeks before his death he wrote:

My heart trouble will keep me here in Paris for another few days at least, until my doctors are in complete agreement about my immediate treatment. Isn’t it the irony of fate that I have been prescribed N/G 1(nitroglycerine), to be taken internally! They call it Trinitrin, so as not to scare the chemist and the public.

[7]

Why did the physicians prescribe NG? Twenty years earlier Benjamin Richardson, a medical doctor and researcher working in London, investigated the physiological effects of amyl nitrite that was administered to a frog. The capillaries in the frog’s foot dilated demonstrating the relationship between NG and vasodilatation [8]. Others worked on the physiology and mechanistic pathways of nitrites over the 19th century. William Murrell, a London physician, prescribed NG to patients and published the positive effects NG provided on relieving chest pain [9,10,11,12]. During this period NG was prepared as a liquid and not easily transported. Murrell wrote to British chemist William Martindale requesting that a solid form of the drug be prepared so that patients could consume the drug, regardless of location, when angina pectoris occurred. Murrell suggested placing the drug (hundredth of a grain) in chocolate [13]. At the turn of the 19th century, consequently, NG and chocolate became linked. The public loved this “drug,” while Murrell regretted his request. He believed the chocolate-coated NG pill would be misused and treated as candy; he tried to retract his original suggestion, but was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, he continued to prescribe NG to his patients [14]. Murrell had no way of knowing that an active ingredient in cocoa (flavonoids) would be investigated for its up-regulation of nitric oxide (a derivative of NG).”

Fascinating, right?  You can read the rest of the article here: Cocoa and Heart Health: A Historical Review of the Science. (For a peer-reviewed publication, it’s easy to read and eloquently written!)  It’s important to remember that chocolate, like any drug, should be taken with the right dosage and frequency.  A small amount of cacao or dark chocolate (which contains more of the active compounds) on a daily basis is better than a hunk of milk or candy chocolate a few times a month in terms of health benefit.  I look for chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao – and particularly love it with salt and nuts – or both!

Which brings me to my loaded chocolate “brittle” – easy and quick to make, but impressive to gift or serve.  With the crunch of toasty pecans & cashews, the sweetness of dried fruit, and a salty flavor when it hits your tongue, this is the perfect thing to include in a gift basket, or just twist into cellophane as a party favor.

 Nutty Chocolate Brittle

Ingredients
  • 1 bar dark chocolate
  • 1 oz nuts
  • 1 Tbsp dried fruit
  • dash salt
Directions

Heat oven to 300F.  Place the chocolate bar in a piece of tinfoil with 1-3 inches extra space around each side; pinch around form of bar and corners to make a mold.  Distribute the nuts and dried fruit onto the bar, making sure each piece comes in contact with the chocolate.  Sprinkle on salt.  Place in oven for 5-7 minutes until chocolate is melted.  Remove and chill until hardened.  Peel off tinfoil.

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Cauliflower gougeres

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One last cheddar recipe to round out the week!  See my Cheddar Pizza Bites and Roasted Garlic Cheese Dip to get the full scoop on the contest and to learn more about Cabot Cheese.

Cauliflower gougeres

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp butter, chunked
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 ground red pepper
  • Head cauliflower, riced
  • ½ c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 6 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh chives, chopped
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp lemon peel, grated

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a large pan on the stove, heat butter until melted.  Add salt, cauliflower and cayenne and stir to coat thoroughly, cooking for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. With wooden spoon, stir in flour all at once until mixture forms ball and leaves side of pan. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until batter is even. Stir in cheese, parsley, chives, and lemon peel until well mixed.  Use two spoons to make small balls and place onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

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I received free samples of Cabot Cheese mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe challenge sponsored by Cabot Creamery and am eligible to win prizes. I was not additionally compensated for my time.

Superbowl solved: roasted garlic cheese dip

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It’s not a secret

I never, ever care about the outcome of a professional sports game…don’t have a team, don’t love a sport, and truthfully I barely remember which teams are playing, even when a game is on right in front of me.  Just the idea that there has been so much time and attention dedicated to deflated footballs when there’s so much else happening in the world makes my head hurt a little.  But tons of decadent food, high spirits, and socializing all afternoon?  I can get on board with that, big time!  So I’m excited for the Superbowl this Sunday.

For most people, the amount of indulgence that happens while watching the Superbowl is akin to Thanksgiving or Christmas feasting.  If you’re eating a balanced diet and exercising several times a week, there’s no reason not to splurge.  But I’ve entertained a lot, and in my experience people always love to snack on veggies if they’re out, especially if there’s something to dunk them in.  My go-to is my Guilt-free Ranch Dip, but this year I have something new to add to the table, and it ups the ante because there’s a vegetable in  this cheesy spread.

Cauliflower: the most versatile veggie

Cauliflower is one of my favorite ingredients to cook with…it pairs well with any meat or fish, can be thrown into almost any soup, and purees into a creamy addition to potatoes, sauces – or dips!  This recipe combines protein + fiber, a satiating duo, and features Cabot cheddar cheese.  Perfect for dipping veggies like broccoli and carrots in, and it even works well as a sauce for pasta, too (I had some over mushroom ravioli, delicious). So whoever you’re cheering for this weekend – go cheese!

Roasted Garlic Cheese Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 6 oz shredded cheddar cheese (I used Cabot Farmhouse cheese)
  • 1/2 c milk (I used whole)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash pepper

Directions

In a pan on medium high heat, saute garlic and onion in the oil for 3 minutes.  Add cauliflower florets (break apart from stem) and 1 c water; cover and simmer until cauliflower is soft to a fork touch, about 8-10 minutes.  In a blender or food processor, combine cauliflower mixture, milk, salt and cheese and puree until smooth.  Garnish with pepper.

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I received free samples of Cabot Cheese mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe challenge sponsored by Cabot Creamery and am eligible to win prizes. I was not additionally compensated for my time.

Cabot Cheese: cheddar pizza bites

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Let’s talk about cheese

Cheese is made from milk – which I hope you were aware of – but what you might not have known is that many types of cheese have low or no lactose, the form of sugar naturally found in milk.  Your body needs the enzyme lactase to break down lactose, and adults make varying amounts…some people make as much as they did in childhood (lactose is also found in human breast milk), and others lose capacity to manufacture lactase to some degree.  Lactose that doesn’t get broken down can cause bloating and discomfort, which is why some avoid fluid milk.

A look at cheddar

Cheddar cheese contains no lactose – it’s strained out in the cheese-making process, leaving only protein, fat, and micronutrients.  This week, Cabot is sponsoring a contest featuring cheese as the star ingredient.  Cabot Creamery is a family-farmer owned cooperative of more than 1200 farms located throughout New England and New York, and 100% of Cabot’s profits go back to their farmers.  American grown, processed, and sold – I love a local product chain!

Let’s talk about pizza

Cheese is a crucial pizza ingredient, but many flavors we associate with pizza are spices; mainly oregano, basil, and garlic.  This recipe uses millet, a gluten-free whole grain, instead of pizza crust and fresh tomatoes and tomato paste instead of sauce, but delivers on that “pizza” flavor profile with a simple Italian herb blend.  Perfect for popping as a snack – or during certain upcoming large-scale sporting events ;)

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Cheddar Pizza Bites

Ingredients
  • 3 c cooked millet
  • 6 oz Cabot cheddar cheese, shredded (I used White Oak Cheddar)
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning (I used Mrs. Dash)
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Dash salt
  • 1 c diced fresh tomato (I used cherry tomatoes; sundried would also work very well here)
Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.  Shred cheese with a grater, and combine with cooked millet, seasonings, egg, tomatoes, paste and salt in a large bowl.  Stir well to mix evenly.  Mold into golf ball sized spheres (it helps to put olive oil on hands prior to prevent sticking) and bake for 30 minutes (I used an oiled mini muffin pan, but you could use parchment on a baking sheet too).  Serve warm!  Makes 8 servings of 3 balls each.

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I received free samples of Cabot Cheese mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe challenge sponsored by Cabot Creamery and am eligible to win prizes. I was not additionally compensated for my time

A Rocket Retreat (+southwest corn chowder with smokey paprika)

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Rocket, round 2

Same gorgeous spot, more challenging Rocket yoga, and a different menu this time – back in October during the last retreat I did with Jonathan, fall foods were in peak season and the menu had more raw, fresh foods.  January is a very different story, and the recipes centered around cold-weather comfort foods like chili, soup, and curry.  We were all too happy to be tucked away in the well-appointed house on the bay…with a brief excursion for a couple of brave souls to do a quick polar bear plunge!

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Air temp was around 30F, I believe…a cold shock to the body is great for the cardiovascular system, as long as you can get warm again soon enough thereafter!  Between the fire, hot drinks, and warm meals, these two were well covered in that department.

We did 3 Rocket classes, an arm balance workshop, an acro workshop, and had two designated times for discussion about the Rocket sequence and nutrition between Friday and Monday.  Jonathan’s retreats are less a retreat and more of a “charge” if you ask me…here are some highlights from the trip:

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RecipeRedux: smokey & spicy!

Coinciding well with one of the dinners I made, this month’s RecipeRedux theme is “heating up with smoke & spices.”  I made the retreat meals a veggie-rich, vegan base that rocketeers (rockettes?) could load up with their choice of garnishes.  Smoked paprika is a fantastic way to add depth of flavor and richness to vegetables, especially a good creamy corn chowder.  My secret for “cream” is to puree a few scoops of the cooked soup and add it back to the pot, making the broth thick and rich.  Try this if you’re cooking for a crowd of eaters who don’t all like the same level of spice, dairy, or meat in their diet!  I paired them with these vegan biscuits – subbed whole wheat for most of the white flour she calls for, and added some chopped rosemary.  Don’t forget to check out the other recipes this month by clicking the blue frog at the end of the post, and as chance would have it, my last Rocket retreat feature recipe was also smokey – spiced sweet potato wedges!

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Southwest corn chowder with smokey paprika

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 c corn
  • 30 oz canned diced tomatoes
  • 4 c vegetable broth
  • 3 medium potatoes, diced (skins on for more fiber!)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 2 orange bell peppers, diced
  • 2 Tbsp corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp dried marjoram
  • 2 Tbsp smoked paprika (I used McCormick’s)
  • 24 oz can white beans, drained

For garnishing (optional):

  • 1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 3 limes, halved
  • 1 lg plain greek yogurt
  • 2-3 c seasoned croutons
  • 2 c shredded white cheddar
  • 1 c parmesan
  • 3 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded, lightly salted

Directions:
Heat the oil in a soup pot on the stove (at least 6qt).  Add garlic, onion, peppers, potatoes, and spices and saute until well blended and softened.  Add the tomatoes, corn, beans, and broth and bring to a simmer, reducing heat, and cook for at least 45 minutes.  Remove 2-3 cups and puree with cornstarch; add back into soup.  Add toppings of choice and enjoy!  Serves 8 meal sized portions.

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California Raisins: pear crostini with goat cheese, prosciutto, and spicy raisin compote

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RecipeRedux time!

This week’s competition is with California Raisins – which I use often as part of a snack, but don’t cook with often enough!  They’re naturally sweet, sun dried (How It’s Made did an episode I happened to catch a few months ago – never knew they dried on the vine!)  so they make a great addition to dessert and savory recipes.  Dried fruit is a great way to add sweetness, and lots of nutrients (notably fiber and potassium) in an unexpected and economic way, and raisins are the most versatile.

This little recipe is the perfect appetizer for holiday entertaining.  Simple ingredients, but all bring out and balance sweet spicy, and savory flavors.  Replacing crostini with a pear slice cuts out refined flour, and the cheese, prosciutto, and nuts add filling protein.  Delicious with some festive champagne!

Pear crostini with goat cheese, prosciutto, and spicy raisin compote

Ingredients

  • 1 lg pear
  • 3 oz goat cheese
  • 3 slices prosciutto
  • 1/4 c toasted slivered almonds
  • 1 c golden Califonia Raisins
  • 1/2 c water
  • dash nutmeg
  • dash ground red pepper

Directions
Roughly chop the raisins, and simmer for 5 minutes with water and spices (water should be absorbed, raisins soft).  Slice the pear from top to bottom to create rounds (dip in lemon water to prevent browning if not serving immediately).  Spread with one teaspoon of goat cheese. Roll each slice of prosciutto and cut into ribbons; unwrap and place on top of cheese.  Top with raisins, then add nuts.

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By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the California Raisin Marketing Board and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

The Original Friendsgiving (+cauliflower herb gravy)

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I’m jut going to put this out there: I started Friendsgiving.

I mean, I think I did – this year will be my 10th annual consecutively hosted event!  I started in college (Friendsgiving 2005), and as I’ve moved from Lancaster, to DC, to Philly, to Gettysburg, back to DC…I haven’t missed a single one.  It seems to me that the phenomenon started getting really popular 3-5 years ago (the first Urban dictionary listing of the word appears in 2009), so if you know of anyone else who predates 2005, I want to hear about it!

Mine is always held the weekend before the real Thanksgiving, which is strategic: everyone is pretty much chomping (pun intended) at the bit for the holidays, are still in town, and no one is yet sick of turkey.  Or turkey sandwiches.  Or turkey casserole.  Or turkey curry. Or turkey mousse (it’s a thing).  At the first one, in my row house next to the F&M campus, there were about 15 guests, and our oven stopped working halfway through cooking the turkey.  I had to call my friend EJ to come pick it up, take it to his house, finish roasting, and bring it back…he was dubious that he could make the quintessential Thanksgiving dish, and worried he would mess it up, but the secret is this: the turkey is the easiest, yet most impressive, part of the meal.  (To be fair, I “cheat” and use a roasting bag…but those suckers WORK.  Get some.)  Every year, it’s just a great gathering of awesome people who I love and am so thankful for, and the perfect start to my holiday season.

Friendsgiving today

Over the years, it’s grown – last year’s event had 45+ guests, and now it’s a potluck, which makes having enough food for that many possible.  Today we had around 40 guests, over 15 dishes, and plenty of wine.  The company changes, the food trends shift, but I always end the day with a full stomach and heart.

Highlights:

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Cauliflower, the new kale:

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I was excited to experiment with an alternative gravy this year. Knowing there would be some vegetarians, I wanted to have an option for them even though my usual go-to is to make a quick gravy with the turkey drippings (which I also still did, it’s too good not to).  I was gifted a beautiful cauliflower by Gracy of Beautiful Life Self Care and decided this was the perfect use for it.  (By the way, she’s amazing, and leads groups to balance and wellness online; if your life feels out of control you should check her out!) Silky, rich, and fortified with olive oil (gravy’s gotta have some fat!), you will swear this is as good as the real thing.  And if you can boil water, you can make it.

It fits perfectly with the RecipeRedux theme this month: a food memory I’m thankful for, healthified.  My family’s Thanksgiving meal always includes homemade turkey gravy, with neck meat and giblets.  If you don’t pour it on everything, you’re doing it wrong, scrape the plate, lick the spoon, really great gravy.  This cauliflower version is delish and has the benefit of containing a vegetable!  Click the blue frog below to see the other Redux member’s recipes :)

Cauliflower herb gravy

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium head cauliflower, broken into small florets
  • 3 c vegetable broth (low sodium, or don’t add the salt)
  • 1 Tbsp tahini (I like Soom)
  • 1 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 tsp Mrs. Dash garlic & herb seasoning (or some garlic and onion powder)
  • 1 tsp Mrs. Dash Italian seasoning (or a blend of oregano, rosemary, and sage)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions
In a medium pot on the stovetop, bring broth and cauliflower to a simmer.  Cook with lid on until soft to a fork, ~10 minutes.  Pour cauliflower and broth into a blender and add all other ingredients.  Puree until smooth (I let mine run for ~3 minutes; be careful, it’s hot – hold a tea towel on top of the blender or allow to cool for a few minutes).  Makes 5 cups.

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