Dark Chocolate & Cocoa are Good for Your Skin – Inside & Out: Part One

There are many fallacies facing the cocoa pod and it’s sinfully delicious off-springs.  Cocoa powder, unsweetened, is exceptionally good for you.  Chocolate, if the cocoa content is at least 70%, is a super food.  Not only that, the cocoa nibs (also called cacao nibs, chocolate nibs or the heart) were once considered a throw away by-product from chocolate making.  They are the broken cocoa bean particles remaining after the beans have been roasted, winnowed and cracked.  They, too, join the rank of foods with high antioxidant properties.

What does all this have to do with your skin?  Well, chocolate is good for your skin too.  Not only does it possess tremendous benefits if you eat it, scientific studies have also found that using pure chocolate and pure chocolate by-products on your skin in the forms of treatments also offers surprising benefits!

Dark chocolate has plenty of antioxidants present in it.  It is an antioxidant powerhouse!  Antioxidants reduce our risk of both degenerative diseases and cancer.   The large amount of these antioxidants is due to the purity of cocoa and dark chocolate. These compounds found in chocolate and cocoa are found in plants that promote healthy cellular tissue throughout the body.  They are known as flavonoids.  Dr. Carl Keen, a professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California Davis says that “The concentration [of flavonoids in chocolate and cocoa] greatly exceeds what you’ll find in most fruits and vegetables.”  Pure cocoa powder (with no sugar) has twice the amount of flavonols than dark chocolate and dark chocolate has twice the flavonols of milk chocolate.  Antioxidants work with the skin to diffuse damage caused by both internal and external factors such as sun damage, pollution and smoking.  Antioxidants also help to protect skin from future damaged.

Eating dark chocolate and cocoa protects your skin with  natural defenses by maintaining collagen and reducing sun damage which normally leads to pre-mature aging of the skin.  It also improves skin texture, and increases skin thickness, density and hydration.

Dark chocolate and cocoa also contains epicatechin which is a natural antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. That means the epicatechin helps to guard cells from free radical damage which causes skin to age.

Chocolate Honey Face Scrub

(Increases circulation and softens dry skin. Not suitable for oily skin.)

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon raw turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil, macadamia nut oil, olive oil or sesame oil

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients until it forms a paste. Gently apply to freshly washed skin and lightly massage with your finger tips for 30 seconds.

Rinse with warm water and you are left with soft, detoxified skin that smells wonderful and looks smooth and silky. Follow with your favorite moisturizer.

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder Dark Chocolate & Cocoa are Good for Your Skin   Inside & Out: Part One

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Madagascar Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Madagascar 150x150 Madagascar Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Madagascar

As you all know by now, Theobroma cacao (aka the chocolate tree, the cocoa tree) will only grow and bear flowers and fruit in a place called the cocoa belt which is located 20 degrees both north and south of the equator.  One of the countries that falls within the cocoa belt and produces some amazing cocoa beans for chocolate is Madagascar.  Madagascar is an island located off the southeast coast of Africa.  It has the Mozambique Channel on its western side and the Indian Ocean on its eastern side.  About 2/3 of the island country of Madagascar is located in the cocoa belt.

Here is a listing of some of the best chocolatiers in the world using the cocoa beans from Madagascar to make some of the best chocolate bars around.

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Amano Artisan Chocolate's Madagascar 70% Chocolate Bar

Amano Artisan Chocolate’s Madagascar 70% chocolate bar.  Made from beans grown in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar.  Made in small batches.  Winner of the 2009 Academy of Chocolate award.  “Madagascar has long been known for producing fine cocoa beans. The beans from Madagascar are primarily of the Trinitario and Criollo varieties. The soil and climate produce beans that are particularly fruity and our Madagascar bar is a fine example of this. This chocolate is perhaps a bit nontraditional with its strong fruity flavors that include hints of citrus and berry and shows the wide range of flavors possible in cocoa. It is absolutely delicious and one that you will remember for its incredible flavor.” (Amano Artisan Chocolate website) (Amano Artisan Chocolate’s Blog)

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Madecasse Madagascar Chocolate's 70% Chocolate Bar

Madecasse Madagascar Chocolate is made from 100% Madagascar grown cocoa beans.  Their cocoa farm is completely sustainable and all of their chocolate and cocoa products are not only grown in Madagascar, but they are made their too.  All of their chocolate is bean to bar.  They produce cocoa powder as well as a selection of seven Madecasse Madagascar Chocolate bars including a Milk Chocolate bar, a  Sea Salt and Nibs chocolate bar, a 63% Cocoa chocolate bar, a 67% Cocoa chocolate bar, a 70% Coco chocolate bar, a 75% Cocoa chocolate bar and a 80% Cocoa chocolate bar.  Buy Madecasse and support the Madecasse chocolate co-op.

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Patric Chocolate's Chocolate Bar Selection

Chocolate maker Alan McClure of Patric Chocolate makes chocolate like they did 150 years ago in France.  His chocolate bars are not only fair trade and organic, but he is a bean to bar chocolate maker as well.  Currently Patric Chocolate offers four chocolate bars made from cocoa beans grown in Madagascar.  They are the 67% Madagascar Sambirano Valley chocolate bar, the 70% Madagascar Sambirano Valley chocolate bar, the 70% Madagascar Bar with Cocoa Nibs chocolate bar and the 75% Madagascar
Sambirano Valley chocolate bar.  All of theses chocolate bars are made from single-estate cocoa beans.  Click here to follow Patric Chocolate’s blog.

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Francois Pralus 75% Madagascar Criollo Chocolate Bar

Pralus has been making exceptional chocolate for over 50 years.  Francois Pralus is the current chocolate maker at the company.  He is only one of three artisan chocolate makers in all of France.  Pralus’s Madagascar 75% Chocolate Bar is a single origin chocolate bar made exclusively of the rarest of the cocoa beans… the Criollo.   The chocolate bar is a tad minty and fruity with acidity and bitterness in the end.

Theo Chocolate Bars 150x150 Madagascar Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Theo Chocolate Bars

Theo Chocolate’s Organic Single Origin Madagascar 74% Dark Chocolate bar is fantastic.  It brings together what Madagascar chocolate is all about.  It’s very fruity and just slightly acidic.  Theo Chocolate prides itself on this chocolate bar being dairy free gluten free, soy free and vegan.  Perfect for everyone!  Theo Chocolate offers fair trade chocolate that is sustainable.  They use green energy to produce their

Theo Chocolates Chocolate University Madagascar Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Theo Chocolate's Chocolate University

chocolate and they even use sustainable packaging and printing for their chocolate bar wrappers. You may follow Theo on Twitter, Facebook or follow them on their blog.  FYI…Theo Chocolate’s Chocolate University starts September 29th!

There are, of course, many more chocolate bars coming from the beans grown in Madagascar.  These are simply some of my all time favorites for you to try,  The cocoa beans from Madagascar make for some amazingly delightful chocolate that sets it apart from any other region growing cocoa.

Askinosie Chocolates Chocolate Hazelnut Spread 150x150 Madagascar Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Askinosie Chocolate's Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Today is the first day of autumn.  Happy fall!  You’d never guess it by the weather in Chicago today.  It’s 88 degrees!  Tomorrow and the days to follow will bring lovely autumn days of sun and temperatures in the 60s.  When I think of autumn, I think of winter squash.  I had a great pumpkin soup last night.  My mind went to pumpkin and voila!  Here’s today recipe for Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread.  You’ll love it for breakfast with a bit of butter or cream cheese, try it for a snack with a spread of Nutella or your favorite chocolate hazelnut spread (Askinosie Chocolate has a really good one!)  If you are feeling really decadent…it’s nice with a scoop of ice cream too!

Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients:
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups  sugar
1 cup oil ( I use macadamia nut oil.)
1/3 cup water
2 cups canned pumpkin
9 ounces dark chocolate, chopped into chunks  (I like to use 70-75%.)
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:
Beat eggs and sugar together. Add oil, water and pumpkin to egg mixture and mix flour, soda, salt and cinnamon together and add to pumpkin mixture. Stir in dark chocolate. Pour in 2 greased bread pans and bake at 300°F for 1-1/2 hours or until cake tests done (toothpick inserted in center comes out clean).

chips bittersweet Madagascar Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Ghirardelli Chocolate 66% Semisweet Chocolate Chips

In the photo below, I used Ghirardelli 66% Chocolate Chips instead of chopping up three dark chocolate bars.  I’ve also used white chocolate before as well as making muffins instead of bread.  It’s all good!

Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread Madagascar Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Vintage Plantations Chocolate: Part Two

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Vintage Plantations 65% Baking Chocolate

A few weeks ago I presented you with information about Vintage Plantations Chocolate.  They sent me their entire line to sample, so even I couldn’t do it over a short period of time.  I had to spread the tastings out.  Needless to say, all of their chocolate bars were outstanding!  The box of dark chocolate covered cocoa nibs that I reported as being divine are still in abundance.  You only need a few to satisfy the chocolate urge.

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Vintage Plantations Assorted Chocolate Truffle Box

Some more tidbits about Vintage Plantations Chocolate before we start. They now make truffles too!  Make sure you are willing to share though.  One box has 72 pieces at $81.  Personally, I’d go for the assortment.  You really need to try them all. They also offer the box of 72  in a chocolate hearts variety.  These would be great for not only Valentine’s day, but for engagement parties, rehearsal dinner gifts, wedding favors and for the sweets table at the wedding.  Pierrick must know something about love too!  Also note, for Valentine’s day they offer more options.

Vintage Plantations Dark Chocolate Frogs 150x150 Vintage Plantations Chocolate: Part Two

Vintage Plantations Dark Chocolate Frogs

Cute other new additions are the Chocolate Frogs.  The kids will love them!  They come in dark, white or milk chocolate and you get 24 for $41.  For those of you that use cocoa for baking or drinking, don’t forget to check out their cocoa products.  They have a variety of baking chocolates and cocoa butter too.

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Vintage Plantations Chocolate Heart Truffles

On our agenda today are the following Vintage Plantations chocolate bars:  Chocolate Latte Mocha, 65% Dark Chocolate, 75% Dark Chocolate with Shredded Coconut, 75% Dark Chocolate with Macadamia Nuts and the 100% Dark Chocolate.  Don’t forget that all of Vintage Plantations Chocolate products all come from Ecuador and are Rainforest Alliance Certified.

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Vintage Plantations Instant Chocolate Drink

Vintage Plantations Chocolate Latte Mocha: This bar is 38% milk chocolate.  Ingredients-cocoa, ground espresso coffee, cane sugar, whole milk powder, soy lecithin and instant coffee.  You could smell the richness of the coffee, chocolate and milk as soon as the wrapper was opened. I felt like I was in a coffeehouse.  I was expecting a lighter colored bar when I opened this one up because of the milk, but the color was pretty dark for a milk chocolate bar.  This bar has an incredible blend of tastes.  Not one over powers the other.  The balance is nice and the flavor lingers on the palate for quite awhile.  Quite nice.

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Vintage Plantations Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffle

The 65% Dark chocolate bar pleasantly surprised me.  As my palate for chocolate has developed, I have found it hard to eat anything between 45-70%.  It’s odd. I know. It seems my taste buds like it extreme.  Either give me lots of milk and sugar, or give me chocolate with just a few specks of sugar.  This 65% bar was dark, not sweet and incredibly smooth.  The chocolate was a nice dark reddish purple brown.  Beautiful.  Nice sharp snap.  Only has pure cocoa mass, raw sugar cane and soy lecithin.  When you open the wrapper, you get a burst of cocoa and floral scent.  Intoxicating.  The taste is exceptionally floral with a bit of a nuttiness at the end.  Smooth mouth feel and nice long finish.

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Vintage Plantations Chocolate

I’m going to do the 75% Dark Macadamia Nuts and Shredded Coconut together.  These bars are identical except for their additions.  They both have cocoa mass and raw cane sugar.  The Macadamia Nuts have the nuts, of course, and salt.  The coconut only coconut.  For me, it’s difficult to do a tasting with bars having ingredients added.  I think my taste buds get confused.  Maybe it’s all the spicy food I eat and I don’t have many to work with!  As with the 65% bar, the notes are the same.  The surprise was the coconut.  It doesn’t saw the coconut is raw, but I felt that it was.  It was nice and light, not overpowering.  The Macadamia Nuts were plentiful and not crushed up.  I like to know it really is  macadamia nuts that I’m eating!  It was!

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Vintage Plantations 75% Dark Chocolate Macadamia Nut

Now for my favorite.  It’s my first 100% Dark Chocolate bar.  I’ve had 99%, but 100%!  I took a photo, but it doesn’t do the color justice.  This bar is not for the beginner.  Compared to other 99% bars that I had tasted, this one had only a light bitterness to it rather than most of them I felt were both dry and extremely bitter.  It’s an acquired taste.  Maybe it’s the Arriba beans.  The color is gorgeous – almost a burnt red brown.  Nice heavy snap.  Floral notes bombarding your nose.  It takes a long time to melt on your tongue, but well worth the wait.  The chocolate starts with floral note and finishes with a strong, but not too strong note of nuts and a nice roasted flavor.  The finish stayed with me for hours.  Literary. I didn’t want to drink anything to remove the ecstasy my taste buds were experiencing.  I think they’re still made at me! Ingredients?  Pure cocoa mass.  This is what chocolate tasting is all about.  Give it a try.  Don’t be shy.  Make sure you don’t eat more than a few squares at a time.  Appreciate the bar over a period of time.  Mine lasted for two weeks.

Well, it took awhile, but we’re finally done with Vintage Plantations Chocolate.  If you have any questions for me or for them, let us know.  They are a great bunch.  I am too!

Cherry Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies

What a dreary and humid day it is here in Chicago.  85% humidity now that the rains has stopped.  I see a nap in my future.  Had a lovely day so far.  Ran a few errands including a run to the library which is one of my favorite places in the world next to any fabulous food market.  Watched the US win against Algeria this morning in football (soccer).  Now here I am to give you all some more fantastic chocolate recipes!

Can you think of a better combination that cherries and chocolate?  Me neither.  This recipe for Cherry Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies comes from Radishes and Rhubarb.  Very cute name and quite a nice food blog! What I really like is that she also substituted 72% chocolate for chocolate chips.  A woman after my own chocolate heart!  A nice glass of milk is in order with these chippies.  I’d eat them warm right out of the oven too!

Cherry Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, slightly colder than room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
2 cups dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content)
1 cup glace cherries

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Position oven rack to the middle of the oven.

Mix dry ingredients together in a small bowl. In an electric mixer, beat together butter, sugars, ground almond, almond extract and vanilla until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in dry ingredients just to incorporate, do not over mix. By hand, stir in chocolate chips and cherries.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 9-11 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and let sit 2 minutes. Remove to cooling rack to cool further. Enjoy warm!

Cherry Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies Photo Courtesy of Radishes and Rhubarb Cherry Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Cherry Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies (Photo Courtesy of Radishes and Rhubarb)

Chewy Brown Butter Espresso Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Let me first apologize if you were unable to get on this site yesterday.  So many people were trying to get on – I’m guessing for the Laduree macaroon recipes – that the site crashed.  Now she’s up and has more juice to provide you with even more chocolate goodness.

Yesterday I diverted from my twice weekly chocolate baking and made a strawberry cake for Dad for Father’s day.  Since he has his stroke, he hasn’t been into chocolate anymore.  I’m guessing it’s because the last thing he ate that day was Godiva chocolate.  No direspect to Godiva.  The mind remembers strange things.  It’s too bad too because dark chocolate has been proven to help prevent strokes and to help people recover faster once they have had them.

I have been finding some really spectacular chocolate recipes for you over the past few days.  This one comes to you from the blog Healthy Delicious.  The cookies are called Chewy Brown Butter-Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies!  Decadence at its best my friends!  It’s a long name, but you have to give credit where credit is due and these cookies have it all!  She suggests making them into ice cream sandwiches.  Nothing wrong with that!  I’m going to make these on Wednesday in cookie form only.  A girl’s gotta watch her figure!  I just tweaked this recipe a tad.

Chewy Brown Butter Espresso Chocolate Chunck Cookies Photo Courtesy of Healthy Delicious Chewy Brown Butter Espresso Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Chewy Brown Butter Espresso Chocolate Chunck Cookies (Photo Courtesy of Healthy Delicious)

Chewy Brown Butter-Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

Brown butter gives these tender cookies a deep toffee-like flavor and a slight saltiness that renders them irresistible. The dough will be very soft — if necessary, pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes to firm it up and make it easier to work with. The dough can also be formed into a log and frozen for quick and easy slice and bake cookies whenever you feel the need. Just slice the frozen dough into rounds and add 5 minutes to the baking time.

Makes 30 cookies

Ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 Tbs instant espresso powder
2 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 pinch sea salt
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content), chopped

Directions:
Preheat oven to 365 F. Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow it to melt, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning. Continue cooking until the butter turns a golden brown (the color of caramel sauce) and has a slightly nutty aroma — this should take about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the espresso power. Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together the brown butter mixture, sugars, and vanilla. Beat in the egg.

Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients — the dough will be very soft but should hold its shape. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop rounded teaspoons of dough into a cookie sheet lines with parchment or a silpat. Bake 10-14 minutes or until the centers are just set. Slide the parchment off the hot pan and allow to cool completely.

Smoke or Used to Smoke? Eat Cocoa and Dark Chocolate!

If you used to smoke or are still smoking, studies show eating cocoa and dark chocolate can help fix the damage smoking has done to your body. Everyone now knows that smoking is bad for them and hopefully you have quit.  For those of you that have not, researchers at Heinrich-Heine-University conducted a study that suggests that cocoa may increase the cardiovascular health of smokers.  Break out those dark chocolate bars and make some hot chocolate!  Although they are not telling anyone to continue smoking or to start, this is great news for those of you that have stopped smoking.  One dozen smokers both men and women in their early thirties participated in the study and they had no known health problems.   The study compared a cocoa beverage that tasted and looked the same, but one was high in flavonols and one was low in flavonols.  The smokers’ level of circulating nitric acid was measured before drinking the cocoa beverage and then two hours after consuming the cocoa beverage.  Each participant drank both drinks during different testing sessions.  The result was the high level of flavonols beverage showed a significant increase in the amount of circulating nitric oxide.  Although the study was conducted on smokers, Dr. Christian Heiss, who was also part of the study, shows agreement with others studies indicating the potential benefits from flavonols rich foods such as chocolate and cocoa in the diet for one’s cardiovascular health.

Heart magazine also conducted a research study with smokers.  They found that dark chocolate with 74 percent cocoa solids slows down the hardening of the arteries in smokers and could cut the risk of serious heart disease in twenty male smokers.  The participants were first asked to abstain from other foods rich in antioxidants for twenty-four hours prior to the study.  They were then given 2 ounces of 74 percent dark chocolate to consume.  After two hours had passed, ultrasound scans showed that the dark chocolate significantly improved the participant’s arterial blood flow.   This increase lasted for eight hours.  Blood samples that were taken from the participants also showed halved platelet activity and their antioxidant levels rose sharply after two hours of consumption.  The white chocolate they were given in a different segment of the study showed no effect on platelets or antioxidant levels in the bloodstream.  The researchers concluded that dark chocolate has more antioxidants than any other foods possessing the same chemicals and “Only a small daily treat of dark chocolate may substantially increase the amounts of antioxidant intake and beneficially affect vascular health.”  Well said.  As I always say, there’s too much evidence that dark chocolate and cocoa are a healthy part of your diet not to eat them!

Cocoa Pods and Cocoa Beans Smoke or Used to Smoke?  Eat Cocoa and Dark Chocolate!

Cocoa Pods and Cocoa Beans

Happy National Fudge Day! Make Some Dark Chocolate Walnut Fudge

Happy National Fudge Day!  It has to be dark chocolate of course.  This is a super easy recipe to make fudge.  Please, I beg of you, don’t make fudge with corn syrup.  The stuff is so bad for you.  This recipe is for my cousin Angie who seems to love fudge…

Dark Chocolate Walnut Fudge

Ingredients:
6 ounces dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content)
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch sea salt

Directions:
In a heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt chocolate with sweetened condensed milk and salt. Remove from heat.  Stir in walnuts and vanilla. Spread evenly into a parchment or wax paper lined 8″ square pan. Chill 2 hours or until firm. Turn fudge onto cutting board. Peel off paper and cut into squares. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Dark Chocolate Walnut Fudge Happy National Fudge Day! Make Some Dark Chocolate Walnut Fudge

Dark Chocolate Walnut Fudge

Chocolate, Endurance and Protein Truffles

Everything happens for a reason.  I was trying to figure out what to post today.  I have an inbox with ideas and recipes just waiting to be talked about.  A twist of fate, or perhaps a very tired mind, lead to the post today.  I was making my lunch of a grilled turkey and garbanzo burger with a side of grilled vegetable and quinoa salad for lunch.  Well, my timer went off and I thought it odd that the pot was still full of water.  Did I forget to turn on the gas?  It has happened.  Well, it turns out buying in the bulk section of Whole Foods has its drawbacks.  Especially when you use a cup of sesame seeds instead of quinoa! So only the burger and veggies for lunch.

What to do with a cup of boiled sesame seeds?  Well, there is a recipe in the Whole Foods cookbook that I mixed together with a recipe I saw on Zoom (PBS) in the 70s and came up with something I call “Protein Truffles”.  I started making them about 5 years ago and there are not only a great lifesaver, but they are good for you, tasty and keep you going.  The recipe is to follow, but keep in mind that I have never created the same version twice!  The recipe below is what I made today along with some suggestions and substitutions.

First, about chocolate, sports, weight and endurance.  Dark chocolate (70% cocoa content or higher) and cocoa possess huge health benefits.  People always ask me how I can write about chocolate, be in shape and still weigh 120 pounds.  You are not only what you eat, but how much you eat.  I do eat 2 ounces of dark chocolate every single day – missing only if I have run out of my stash.  Then I try for cocoa in something – it’s either hot cocoa or I use it in a savory dish.  How can I stay trim and eat like this?  Well, I don’t eat all of the fabulous baked goods that I share with you constantly.  Baked goods are meant to be enjoyed, not eaten everyday.  There are lots of empty calories in baked goods, not to mention unrefined sugar and simple carbs.  A sweet treat twice a week works for me.  The other thing?  You have to move!  You need to eat a clean diet.  I have a rule.  If  the food is in a package and I either cannot pronouce an ingredient or it has more than 6 ingredients, I try not to eat it.  I eat though!  I love to eat.  I eat at least 2,200 calories everyday.  You need to get some exercise daily which brings me to athletes eating chocolate.

Chocolate bars, including chocolate candy, have been used by endurance athletes we’ve seen recently on the news.  They have been part of the food stuffs of rower Katy Spotz’s trip across the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Oceans, sailor Abby Sunderland circumnavigating the globe and those making the ultimate endurance test by climbing Mount Everest.  A little side note here as I often like to do.  I recently interviewed Russell Brice who owns Himalayan Experience and has led hundreds of climbers up Mount Everest and if you watch the Discovery Channel or National Geographic you have also seen him there.  He says that they offer chocolate  and biscuits (cookies) to the gods prior to their ascent of Mount Everest.  They also have a huge selection of chocolate and chocolate candy in the mess tent.  Bad news for the Mars bar.  Thet are always the last to go… So you see, chocolate is known by athletes to be a premium, high quality food source not only because of its protein, fat and carbohydrate make up, but because there are scientific studies proving that chocolate decreases anxiety, improves concentration and gives you sustainable energy levels. Why do you need to lessen your anxiety and concentarte when you are an athlete?  Think  about being on a rowboat by yourself crossing a great ocean.  Think about climbing the highest peak in the world where people die every year and the top is called “the death zone”.  There are no peaks and valleys in your sugar levels when you eat dark chocolate.  When you eat chocolate candy there are, but if you are an athlete going the distance, there is no need to worry about this as you need to continually refuel anyway.

You can use dark chocolate and cocoa to keep you going throughout your day or your training.  I saw Lance Armstrong biking by my house a lot when I lived in Austin, Texas.  People said he carried chocolate bars with him.  Not sure if it’s really true, but it wouldn’t surprise me and it made me smile.

These little “Protein Truffles” are something that I pop into my mouth, usually two, before I go on my walk.  They are full of all kinds of good stuff and look eerily similar to a chocolate truffle, thus the name.  You can store them in the freezer since you use cocoa and not chocolate or in the refrigerator.  They should be kept in a tin or a sealed plastic bag.

Protein Truffles

Makes about 24

Ingredients: (They change regularly)
1 cup of nut butter (today I used almond butter)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup agave nectar (you can use honey)
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (today I used raw coconut)
1/2 cup nuts or seeds (today I used sesame seeds!)

Optional: to roll the “truffles” – unsweetened cocoa powder, ground raw coconut, any ground nuts or seeds and my favorite…ground cocoa nibs

Directions:
In a medium bowl, mix the nut butter, agave nectar and cocoa powder. Stir in nuts and/or seeds.  Uisng a melon baller or two spoons, form into one inch balls.  If desired, roll into one of the optional coatings.  Put on a cookie tray lined with wax or parchment paper.  Put in the freezer for two hours or until set.  Put in an airtight container and store either in the freezer or refrigerator.

Protein Truffles01 Chocolate, Endurance and Protein Truffles

Chocolate Protein Truffles

Sicilian Chocolate Lasagna and Annie’s Dark Chocolate Lasagna

As promised…two recipes  for lasagna.   The first one is a Sicilian Chocolate Lasagna.  The ones I made in the past were fantastic.  Everyone knew there was something in the tomato sauce, but couldn’t quite figure it out.  There’s dark chocolate in it.  Shut the door!  No, I’m completely serious.  I put cocoa and chocolate in chili, why not tomato sauce.  The recipe comes from a Sicilian grandmother that wanted me to marry her son.  Too bad I didn’t like her son.  I loved her!  As always…I digress.  I promise you’ll love this recipe.

The second recipe…this one is for dessert.  Please do not try to be cute and do a theme night serving both lasagnas.  Your guest will fill sick and also gain 10 pounds blaming you!  I first made this recipe about 10 years ago.  I didn’t like it the way it first came out.  It tasted like cheesecake with noodles.  This one turns out more like a chocolate cannoli with noodles. I found chocolate lasagna noodles a few years ago and haven’t seen them since.  You could also make your own.  The recipe calls for regular lasagna noodles, so don’t sweat it! The chocolate ones just added a different twist. Enjoy and pace yourself!

Sicilian Chocolate Lasagna

Serves 8

Ingredients:

For the Sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 pound lean ground beef, minced
1/2 pound lean ground pork, minced
1 cup red wine
8 ounces tomato puree
1/4 dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content), chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and black pepper to taste

For Assembling:
1 pound dried lasagna
1/2 cup grated Pecorino (You may use Parmesan. Fresh please, no cans! )
1 pound buffalo mozzarella, sliced (You can use regular mozzarella.)
1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
Garnish: grated cheese, extra sauce and/or parsley or basil leaf

Directions:
For Sauce:
Warm olive oil in large pot. Add onion and garlic. When onion is softened, about 10 minutes, add meat and saute over high heat until lightly browned. Stir in red wine, tomato puree, cinnamon, chocolate and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for one hour covered.
For Assembling:
Preheat oven 350°F. Cook lasagna in abundant boiling water. When not quite al dente, stop cooking, drain and lay each noodle on a damp towel in preparation for assembling.

Coat bottom of deep baking dish sparingly with tomato sauce. Line with layer of lasagna. Dot with spoonfuls of ricotta, slices of mozzarella. Sprinkle lightly with grated cheese, spread with sauce. Repeat layers in same order ending the top layer with pasta,. Spread this last layer with tomato sauce and grated cheese. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and cook additional 30 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

Sicilian Chocolate Lasagna Sicilian Chocolate Lasagna and Annie’s Dark Chocolate Lasagna

Sicilian Chocolate Lasagna

Annie’s Dark Chocolate Lasagna

Serves 8

Ingredients:
For the Filling:
1 1/2 lbs. (about 2-1/2 packed cups) Mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract (I’ve substituted almond extract before and it was good.)
Grated zest 1/2 large orange
3/4 cup dark chocolate (70% of higher cocoa content), chopped
½ cup currants, chopped
½ cup pistachios, chopped
9-10 lasagna noodles

For the Sauce:
8 ounces dark chocolate (70% of higher cocoa content), chopped
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
dash sea salt

Directions:
For Filling:
In a large bowl, beat Mascarpone, sugar, and heavy cream.  Add cocoa powder, eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in orange zest. In small bowl, combine chocolate, currants, and pistachios with spoon.

For Assembling:
Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Place cooked noodles on parchment paper or a cutting board.  Make sure they are dry.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 7” x 11” deep baking pan. Line the bottom of the baking pan with three cooked noodles. Noodles may overlap slightly. Trim short ends so they’ll fit into pan. Carefully pour about half of filling on top of noodles. Spread half of sauce over filling. Sprinkle about half of the chocolate mixture evenly over sauce. Repeat this with three more noodles for second pasta layer, the remainder of filling, rest of sauce and  rest of chocolate mixture. The top layer should be of cooked noodles. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake the covered lasagna for 35 minutes. Remove from oven. Allow to stand, covered, for 15 minutes before serving. While lasagna is cooling, make sauce.

For the Sauce:
In small bowl, combine chocolate and sea salt. In small heavy saucepan over low heat, add cream, stirring occasionally, until steaming. Remove from heat. Pour half of hot cream over chocolate. Allow to stand for a minute, then stir until smooth. Gradually stir in remaining cream.

You can garnish it with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, white chocolate (to look like cheese) and/or berries and mint.  If you want, you can make a double mixture of the chocolate sauce, save half and spoon on the lasagna warm.

Annies Dark Chocolate Lasagna Sicilian Chocolate Lasagna and Annie’s Dark Chocolate Lasagna

Annie's Dark Chocolate Lasagna

Chocolate Macaroon Rice Pudding

The dark chocolate rice pudding recipe that I posted not too long ago got a huge response.  I thought this recipe even better than the last!  The recipe is for the purist.  If you prefer variety, you may stir in some slivered almonds in at the very end.  It turned out quite nice when I did it.  Toasted the almonds a bit first.  I wonder if chocolate covered cocoa nibs would be nice?  At least as a garnish.  Am I right?  Give it a shot.

Chocolate Macaroon Rice Pudding

Serves 6

Ingredients:
2 cup cooked rice
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped
vanilla bean
1 cup flake coconut
2 cups milk

Directions:
Place all ingredients in a double boiler over simmering water. Stir occasionally. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and mixture is of pudding consistency. (Will take 20-40 minutes.) Serve warm or cold. Garnish with a bit of coconut and/or chocolate curls if you dare!

Dark Chocolate Macaroon Rice Chocolate Macaroon Rice Pudding

Chocolate Macaroon Rice Pudding