A Chocolaty Valentine’s Day

By Stacey Stein

Valentine’s Day may conjure up thoughts of roses and sentimental cards, but more than anything the day makes us think of a certain sweet, delicious confection: chocolate.

Valentine’s Day and chocolate are pretty much synonymous. Heart-shaped boxes filled with the decadent treat are ubiquitous in the lead up to February 14, and chocolate purveyors get in on the action with special Valentine’s Day collections.

If there’s any doubt about the strong association between chocolate and Valentine’s Day, consider this: according to Statistics Canada, sales of chocolate and confectioneries made from cocoa beans totaled $110 million in Canada in February 2012. Meanwhile, in the United States, Valentine’s Day chocolate sales top $1 billion.

All of which begs the question: why is chocolate such a sweetly potent symbol of the holiday of love? Many point to British chocolate manufacturer Richard Cadbury (whose eponymous confectionery company turns out popular treats such as Dairy Milk and Crunchie bars.) In the mid-1800s Cadbury created the first-ever heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day. A new tradition was started, and the rest is history.

There’s also chocolate’s status as an aphrodisiac. Chocolate contains two chemicals that have been associated with feelings of excitement, attraction and even pleasure. While researchers believe the amounts of these chemicals are too small to have any notable effect, the link between the cocoa bean and romantic desire dates back hundreds of years to the Aztecs.

Whatever the reason for chocolate’s popularity during Valentine’s Day, most of us are grateful for any excuse to indulge in its sweet, creamy deliciousness. And there is a multitude of creative ways to incorporate chocolate into your Valentine’s Day dinner or brunch. Read on for some interesting ideas that are sure to please the chocoholics in your life.

Dinner ideas

Mains and sides

Take your inspiration from Mexican cuisine and try whipping up a mole sauce, which includes chocolate as one of its ingredients. The sauce is traditionally paired with chicken – you can easily find great mole sauce recipes by searching online.

Registered dietitian Shannon Crocker recommends serving a mole chicken with brown basmati rice and a coconut sweet potato mash. “The sweetness of the potatoes will balance out nicely with the richness of the mole sauce,” she says.

You can also try making a chocolate-infused chili. Crocker recommends adding about two ounces of unsweetened chocolate or a few tablespoons of dark cocoa into the chili. You would stir in the chocolate after you’ve grounded the meat, added in the tomatoes and are about to simmer the chili. “It doesn’t make it taste like chocolate, it just really intensifies the flavour,” Crocker says. She suggests serving the chili with a smoky cheese cornbread.

Other inventive ways to incorporate chocolate into your entrée include making barbecue chicken drumsticks with a chocolate infused barbecue sauce or making cocoa-rubbed baby back ribs. You can either look for a rib rub recipe online or make your own favourite rib rub, then add in a couple of tablespoons of cocoa. The drumsticks pair nicely with a roasted cauliflower pasta side dish, while you can try making a roasted asparagus gratin if you’re serving baby back ribs.

Dessert

Dessert presents the perfect opportunity to up the chocolate quotient of your Valentine’s Day dinner. For a lighter dessert, try a bowl of fresh strawberries drizzled with melted dark chocolate and served with some coconut whipped cream or regular whipped cream.

You can also make a chocolate fondue and serve fresh berries and other fruit for dipping, along with some coconut whipped cream on the side.

If you’re looking for a more decadent dessert, try making a chocolate coconut banana cream pie or chocolate shortbread cookies, which you can cut into fun heart shapes.

Brunch ideas

There are many delicious ways to incorporate chocolate into a Valentine’s Day brunch. Here are a few ideas:

•    Chocolate crepes filled with strawberries and topped with toasted coconut and whipped cream.
•    Heart-shaped dark chocolate chip pancakes (replace chocolate chips with chunks of dark chocolate.)
•    A fruity skillet pancake drizzled with melted dark chocolate.
•    Zucchini muffins made with cocoa (add 1/3 cup of cocoa to the recipe to turn these into dark chocolate zucchini muffins.)
•    Nutty coconut coffee (you can replace the rum and liqueur with cocoa powder.)

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