Dark chocolate makes for a sweet Valentine's Day treat

“Chocolate is happiness you can eat” — Ursula Kohaupt

Every Valentine’s Day this conscious cook’s thoughts turn to chocolate. Cooking with chocolate, eating chocolate, and sharing chocolate with those I love. Chocolate may just be the sublime expression of complete satisfaction. Dark chocolate, in particular, is a sensational ingredient, not only in Valentine’s dishes, but throughout the year.

Dark chocolate differs from milk chocolate in that it contains little or no milk solids. Also known as bittersweet or semisweet, dark chocolate containing 70 percent or more cacao, offers seductive flavor, while providing specific health benefits.

The antioxidants and nutrients found in dark chocolate may have a positive impact on the body by potentially aiding circulation, reducing diabetes, protecting skin from UV rays and reducing the risk of melanoma. Dark chocolate contains iron, which helps produce new red blood cells to transport nutrients and oxygen to organs, bones, brain and tissues. A good source of magnesium, dark chocolate may help reduce anxiety and muscle aches, along with aiding digestion. Consuming dark chocolate may enhance brain and cognitive function, leading to an enhanced intelligence level-always an attractive asset!

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of eating dark chocolate is its “feel good factor.” A supreme mood enhancer, enjoying a bit of dark chocolate can practically guarantee an evening of pure happiness! For a simple, yet super sexy Valentine’s dessert, assemble a tasting flight of different dark chocolate varieties. Make a pretty presentation by adding fresh raspberries, strawberries or blueberries and a mint leaf. Taste one small square at a time, letting each morsel melt ever so slowly. Close your eyes and relax into the experience of savoring each individual nuance.

Love is a many splendored assortment of chocolate, and hearts will flutter when presented with a gift of divine, dark deliciousness. Dark chocolate is widely available in nearly every supermarket today, perfect for sharing with your Valentine’s sweetheart.

Delight your valentine with chocolate dipped fruits. Dry fruits including dates, figs, or apricots and fresh fruits such as juicy orange slices, crisp apple wedges, perfectly ripe bananas or fragrant strawberries will be ever so luscious enrobed in rich dark chocolate.

Or if you are feeling adventurous, experiment with the savory side of chocolate. Dark chocolate lends itself brilliantly to succulent short ribs, smoky, spicy chili, coffee and chocolate rubbed baby back ribs, and turkey mole. Thin slices of dark chocolate laid on slices of French bread and drizzled with olive oil make for an usual bruschetta, or try adding grated dark chocolate to your morning oatmeal or yogurt.

Dazzle your Valentine’s date with the delights of dark chocolate and share the joy of preparing a delicious life.

Chocolate Covered Joy

Makes 30 pieces

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chunks (70 percent cacao or higher)

4 clementines, or satsuma oranges, peeled and sectioned

1 tablespoon finely chopped, crystallized ginger or nuts of your choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Place chocolate in a small glass bowl. Microwave on medium for 1 minute. Stir, then microwave for 20 second intervals until melted. Stir well after each interval. Or melt in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not boiling water.

Dip the clementine or orange sections into the melted chocolate, letting excess drip off. Place the sections on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the ginger or nuts over the chocolate. Refrigerate until set, at least an hour. Can be made a day ahead, but do not hold longer than that.

You can also dip strawberries, bananas, or any dried fruit you prefer using this method.

For a more luxurious version use strawberries, but take 12 medium strawberries, rinsed and dried and place them in a bowl. Cover with two cups of prosecco or other sparkling wine. Place a bowl on top of the strawberries to keep them submerged. Cover and refrigerate for eight hours. Remove the strawberries from the bowl and pat dry with paper towels. Continue with the same instructions as above to dip and set strawberries in chocolate.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook,” writes about preparing a delicious life and presents healthy food workshops throughout New England. She is a professional cook, organic gardener and a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teachers College.