Love is in the air. Valentine cards are flying off the shelves, along with candy. Many have flowers on their minds and roses come at a pretty hefty price in February. But hey, your sweetie is worth it.
At this time of the year, my mind always seems to turn to chocolate. There are studies that tout it is a good antioxidant for what else, our hearts.
I must admit I have my own list of chocolate indulgences. Some, like Hostess Devils Food Donettes, are among them. What is better than chocolate covered strawberries? I love to justify eating them saying I am getting lots of good things from both the chocolate and the strawberries.
Of course, my passionate favorite is chocolate ice cream and my newest indulgence is Private Select’s Chocolate Ganache. Again, in order to justify my bowl of the delicious dark cream, I also add toasted almonds.
I am not alone. My neighbor Barbara Snyder loves chocolate Cheerios. Smart woman that Barbara; gets her fiber and oats all rolled into a delicious chocolate circle.
For the day, Tuesday, Feb. 14, many couples like to take the opportunity to have a cozy, romantic dinner out. But don’t plan on doing it at White Castle this year unless you have already made your reservation. The popular place has become fun for couples and families with its white tablecloth service. But alas, reservations are SOLD OUT; not even yours truly who has gone for the past three years will be there this year.
But check your favorite eateries and I bet many of them will have Sweetheart specials, but I would advise making a reservation, if you can.
Time to cook
I’m not a big commercial candy lover, but I love homemade candy and always turn to some of my favorite tricks and recipes for Valentine gifts.
This year I will be making quite a few, thanks to my big idea to offer some chocolate treats to raise money for the Red Cross and Immanuel Baptist Church’s youth program. The high bidders, Susan Abney at the former and Fran Johnston at the latter, have called in their markers. Ironically, for both women, it is the need for special goodies for daughters Ella and Helen Hall Abney and Michelle Johnston, whose birthday is Valentine’s Day.
Then, of course, there is my sister Peggy and her husband Bob Meyer who are down in the land of sunshine in Florida. Both love all things chocolate and prefer it homemade. Looks like the family cook will be calling upon UPS to send it their way.
Lastly, again my big mouth has gotten me into trouble as over the Christmas holiday, I invited my friends Larry Davis and Shirley Williamson to join me for dinner. Of course there needs to be dessert and from me they expect no less than it will be chocolate and homemade.
So it looks like the “ole” kitchen will be filled with trays, pans and chocolate all over the counters here at Harrod Chocolate factory.
Here are some easy items you can make at home.
I love rich dark chocolate bark filled with nuts or craisins. White chocolate works as well.
Grease a baking sheet with butter, cover in wax paper and lightly grease it as well.
Melt about 16 ounces of chocolate or more depending on how much you want to make – dipping chocolate squares or morsels – in a bowl or double boiler over simmering water. Sometimes I have even used large candy bars.
Remove from heat.
Stir in about 16 ounces of nuts into the warm chocolate (I like salted because I like the contrast of salt and sweet), but don’t do it directly from the nut can. Pour the nuts out onto a paper towel to remove extra grease and the salt sediment. Then with your hands add the nuts and incorporate the two.
Pour onto wax paper and place tray in refrigerator for the chocolate to harden.
Once the chocolate is cold and hardened, remove from fridge and either break the pieces with your hand or use a kitchen mallet or heavy spoon.
Chocolate fruit, Marshmallows, pretzels
While many people enjoy chocolate fondue, which can be fun for children and adults, I prefer to dip mine and create a mixture to serve.
Again, melt dipping chocolate or morsels; if I use morsels, I add about two teaspoons melted paraffin. You can grate it straight into the warm chocolate and the paraffin will melt.
Assemble your fruit or whatever you are going to dip. For all fruit, make sure it is drained of juices and patted dry. Besides strawberries, try some of these: pineapple chunks, maraschino cherries with stems and blueberries (good in white chocolate).
Other additions can be pretzel rods dipped about halfway or smaller pretzels completely covered.
As for marshmallows, I get the really large ones, let my chocolate cool in order not to melt the marshmallows and dip about two-thirds of the marshmallow.
These are always a fun way to get the kiddos and even teens involved. You can make sugar or shortbread cookies and cut them with heart-shaped cutters, or buy the pre-made batter rolls if you are short on time.
For additions, dust with powdered sugar using a mesh sifter or decorate with colorful icing. But one of my favorite tricks is to get red or pink M&M’s (chocolate of course) and rim the edges of the cookies.
It isn’t often I can say I had a great time grocery shopping, but Saturday was an exception when I hit my neighborhood Kroger East to both drop off and purchase items for the first lady’s Shop and Share Day.
Inside the store it was filled with shoppers who seemed to be having a good time as well. Employees dressed in football attire or aprons were in every aisle serving food to provide suggestions for game day on Sunday. Manager Mary Beth Baker in her Eli Manning jersey and her coach’s whistle seemed to already know the outcome of the game.
One shopper was laughing. “I was going to get my groceries and head to pick up something for my lunch. Don’t have to do that now; I’ve had my lunch here.”
The one thing I appreciated most was the opportunity to compare jars of salsa. At one station, there were six salsas lined up to try. This was so helpful to me – I’ve always wanted to be able to compare brands at the same time. The same thing for cocktail meatballs – two different brands cooked in barbecue sauce.
In case you aren’t aware, Ale-8 is now in the salsa business. According to the woman fixing the cups of salsa, the brand had just arrived at the store that day. It was a little sweet for me; I loved the Frog brand with its heat. To let my family and friends compare the two against my absolute favorite, Herdez, I bought three jars.
Ah, the power of suggestion.
Even my competitive spirit was challenged and I learned some Super Bowl trivia with the loudspeaker contest that came with rewards for the winners who responded fastest with answers to questions. Do you know the college that has produced the most Super Bowl MVPs?
Special thanks also go to our generous community and to all those who gave up their day to gather the collections. The lobby of the grocery was filled with donations for Shop and Share that benefit our four local women’s shelters. What a generous, caring community we are.