You might be surprised to learn that I didn’t start eating liking chocolate until about 4 years ago. No, I wasn’t allergic or anything–I just didn’t like the flavor. And no, it wasn’t one of those little kid “I hate [insert yucky food here]!” phases that just never went away. I baked with chocolate all the time for my chocolate-eating peers. And every time I baked something–brownies, cookies, cake, biscotti, muffins, truffles, whatever– I’d test it out to see if “maybe this time” I liked chocolate. But every time there was something about the flavor that I just couldn’t get over (kind of like how I still am with coffee today).
How did I overcome this inconceivable tragedy (as some called it)? It turns out that that intro to culinary arts class that I took for fun in college was organized by the courses of a meal. When we got to the dessert class, the instructor announced that we’d be working with chocolate. He was sensible enough to ask if anyone was allergic to chocolate, but I felt ashamed to announce my dislike of this almost sacred indulgence. So, it being close to Halloween, I went home and lined up a firing squad of every famous American candy bar that I could get in one variety pack of miniature chocolates Halloween candy and force fed myself, trying to be open minded, trying to taste the different flavors. (Yeah. It took a while).
But it turned out that I (finally) really enjoyed chocolate, especially when paired with other things–not just by itself. Strawberries and chocolate was an excellent combination as were mint, orange, caramel, and nuts. (If you’re wondering who won the mini candy bar taste test, Snickers definitely came out ahead). And gradually, I began to eat more and more chocolate. I wouldn’t consider myself a chocaholic by any means–to this day I’m not a fan of plain chocolate ice cream, and the very idea of chocolate milk unsettles me.
I’ve since begun to explore the world of gourmet chocolates. That’s how I stumbled upon this brand at my local Whole Foods the other day. Don’t let that price tag fool you. It was a fantastic bar of chocolate! And yes, it was a little treat to reward myself for a busy week at work, but I’m pleased to report that I felt as though I had paid for more than just a fancy chocolate bar–I got a whole experience. You see, as I nibbled on a square of this chocolate I noticed a list of instructions on the back of the box directing me on “how to enjoy an exotic candy bar.” Intrigued, I read on:
“Breathe. Engage your senses. Take 3 deep, cleansing breaths, filling your lungs with air. Quiet the chattering mind.
See. Notice the milky brown hue of the chocolate bar and the dark, glossy shine on the bar’s surface.
Smell. Rub your thumb on the bar to help warm the chocolate and release the aromas. Can you sense the parfum beneath the surface?
Snap. Break the bar into two pieces to reveal the interior. Inhale.
Taste. Take a bit, spreading the chocolate across your tongue, pause. Press the chocolate to the roof of your mouth and continue to breathe…”
And it continues similarly. Yowsa! Okay, I know some of you might think this is a little extreme, maybe even a little silly or pretentious. But I must emphasize how following these instructions completely transformed my chocolate eating experience. It was incredibly sensual and utterly delicious. And so worth it–if only to learn that I must have been eating chocolate “incorrectly” for the short period of time that I’ve been eating it at all!
For those of you who are familiar with Slow Food, I think Vosges Haut Chocolat has hit the nail on the head. Eating it reminded me to slow down and remember to taste everything about the food that I eat: the natural essences of the ingredients, the pops of flavor from the seasoning or sauce, and even the “taste” of the dirt it was grown in or the hands that cultivated it. I realize that last part sounds weird, but it represents an ideal of eating in such a way that you can connect with the farmer or chef or any other hands who made the meal possible and truly appreciate all the time and effort that nourished the foods which nourish you. (This also works the other way around. If you can’t taste all those things and you can’t happily imagine the lives of the people who made it, you might consider choosing a different food, eh?)
So thinking about chocolate, here’s a couple recipes that I’ve been meaning to try and that I hope to get around to this weekend. Maybe you can make one of them too (or both) and let me know how yours turns out and what (if any) modifications you made.
One is sweet…
Chocolate Meringues (from My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde)
– 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
– 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
– 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1. Heat the oven to 275F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Put the egg whites in a bowl and whisk rapidly until stiff, using an electric mixer. (Or be old-school and give your arm a workout whipping them by hand…) Add the sugar and whisk rapidly for another minute. Add the cocoa powder and whisk just until blended.
3. Scoop the meringue mixture by large spoonful onto the parchment paper. Bake for 2 hours. For perfectly crisp meringues, leave them to dry in the turned-off oven for an additional 12 hours.
*Optional: Sandwich together with whipped cream.
And the other savory:
Chicken with Chocolate and Herbes de Provence (from Delicious Living, October 2009)
– 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
– 4 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence
– 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
– salt and pepper
– 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
– 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
– 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
– 1 ounce dark chocolate chips
– 1-2 tablespoons chives, for garnish
1. Mix together herbs, parsley, salt, and pepper, and rub chicken with mixture, coating thoroughly.
2. Pour broth into a pan just large enough to fit chicken snugly and bring to a simmer over high heat. Add chicken and any remaining herb mixture. Cover tightly, reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer, and cook until chicken is done, about 5-7 minutes.
3. While chicken is simmering, in a small pan combine balsamic vinegar and maple syrup; cook over high heat until bubbly and slightly thickened, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate.
4. Increase heat under chicken to high, remove lid, and add balsamic-chocolate mixture, shaking pan to mix juices. Turn chicken several times to coat well, shaking constantly. When sauce is bubbling, remove from heat. Sprinkle with chives and serve at once.
Whether you use these recipes or not, I encourage you to try to think about your chocolate or anything you eat in this way and reflect on how it changes your experience of eating to a more pleasurable one. While you’re at it, let me know what you discovered! Did you discover something new about the chocolate or food that you ate? Did you reach chocolate nirvana and have some profound truths to share with us? Or, what’s your favorite way to enjoy chocolate–simple or complex? Do you eat your chocolate slowly in dozens of miniature bites (like Jessalyn) or do you gulp it all down in a couple big bites (like Alex)?