Conscious Cook: The lusciousness of love

“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or torturous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.” — Joanne Harris, Chocolat”

Love is in the air! With all its bitter and sweet moments, love is perhaps one of the most complex, alluring, exhilarating, disappointing and sustaining aspects of our delicious lives.

Cooking is a particularly satisfying romance for some. Seeking out unusual ingredients invigorates the senses, while experimenting with new recipes or simply creating nourishing comfort, stimulates and satisfies. And sharing well-crafted, nutritious food keeps the circle of love alive.

Of all the foods of love, chocolate may be the most revered. High quality dark chocolate is a luscious, yet rather healthy indulgence. Dark chocolate with a 70% or higher cocoa content is rich in antioxidants, that may provide compelling health benefits, such as improved brain function and heart support. Choosing fair trade, organic dark chocolate will support cacao farmers, while reducing your exposure to pesticides and artificial chemicals. Read labels carefully, and for maximum benefit, select bars that list cocoa as the first ingredient and avoid those made with trans fats (which could be listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) and large amounts of sugar.

Eating chocolate can be a sensuous and seductive activity. Arrange a tasting flight of different chocolates with varying degrees of cocoa percentage. Let each piece linger on the tongue, slowly melting, as you savor the magnificence of the moment, while appreciating the individual nuances of each type. Prepare a dessert platter with ripe, red strawberries, juicy raspberries, plump, “dried figs and a crystal dish filled with small chunks of dark chocolate. Try a chocolate bruschetta, by toasting good bread and placing a square of dark chocolate on top. Pop under the broiler, just until the chocolate softens, sprinkle with just a kiss of cinnamon and share with someone special.

Dark chocolate can be easily melted in the microwave. Place chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and heat in 30 second intervals. Remove the bowl after each interval and stir, until the chocolate is completely melted and quite smooth. Dip bananas, grapefruit, oranges or pretzels, sponge cake or graham crackers into the molten chocolate and luxuriate in the liquid love.

Dark chocolate will bring a unique elevation to savory dishes as well. Add a bit of grated dark chocolate to beef and bean chili, grilled steak or chicken, beef stew, barbecue sauce, mole sauce, enchiladas, or eggplant caponata. Even roasted vegetables will become more alluring after adding this dark and distinctive dash of flavor.

Let the lusciousness of love inspire you as you prepare your delicious life.

Roasted Carrots with Dark Chocolate Sauce

Serves 6

2-3 pounds organic carrots (not trimmed and bagged, but fresh with greens) peeled, trim tops, but leave a little of the greens on.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

Sauce

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ cup balsamic vinegar

several sprigs fresh thyme

1 ounce dark chocolate (at least 70 percent, the higher the better)

1 teaspoon honey

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place carrots in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and cinnamon. Roll carrots until coated with oil and place carrots on baking sheet. Roast until carrots are tender and brown in spots, shaking pan frequently.

While carrots are roasting, place vinegar and thyme in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until vinegar is reduced to ¼ cup. Remove the saucepan from the heat and remove the thyme sprigs. Add the chocolate and stir until very smooth. Add the honey and season with just a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir again and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Place carrots on a platter and drizzle sauce over the carrots and serve.