It’s no surprise to me that Valentine’s Day is synonymous with chocolate. What celebration of love would be complete without it?
Chocolate starts out as a seed of the cacao tree. As a seed it actually has a bitter flavor, but through a process of fermentation and roasting, the chocolate transforms into the delicious rich-flavored treat we know and love.
Chocolate is made all over the world from France to Belgium, Japan to the United States. But all the cocao seeds come from trees grown in regions 20 degrees from the equator, such as Africa, Madagascar, Peru and Brazil. Like wine, chocolate actually reflects the characteristics of a region’s soil, air and climate, a term known as terroir, which gives it a unique flavor. Room temperature chocolate will tend to show off more flavor. Let a piece melt on your tongue and see if you can detect undertones like vanilla, caramel, yellow fruit, almond, spice, and even bread.
I love it all, but my favorite chocolate is dark chocolate, made with minimum of 70% cocoa solids, which gives it a deep, intense flavor. I’m pretty happy just snacking on it as it is, but chocolate is an amazingly versatile ingredient. Shave it on top of a cappuccino or dip the rim of a martini glass in shaved chocolate and fill with a mint-chocolate martini. Try it in recipes with fresh or dried fruit. Classic pairings for chocolate include strawberries, raspberries and oranges. Those with a more adventurous sweet tooth may want to try it melted over crystallized ginger or dried papaya. Chocolate adds depth to savory dishes too. It makes mole sauces and spice rubs so special.
Ready to fall in love? Pick up some good quality dark chocolate and whip up these Pot au Chocolate with Cinnamon Whipped Cream.
I’m convinced that Mother Nature looks out for us. On a brutally hot summer afternoon, she gives us light and juicy watermelons. When we’re hacking our way through winter’s cold season, she sends us vitamin C-rich oranges. I’m not saying you need to have a runny nose to enjoy these delicious citrus fruits, but they’re sure a godsend if you do.
Two of the most popular types of oranges—navel and Valencia—originated in China. Known as sweet oranges, these gorgeous fruits have a sweet pulpy flesh and gentle acidity that works beautifully just as they are or in many dishes. Two of my favorite seasonal specialties, the red cara cara and blood orange, have a tart, almost berry-like flavor and striking pinkish red flesh. Bitter oranges have a more biting flavor. While a bit too sharp to eat alone, the bitter variety is perfect in marmalade and jam (or in liqueurs like Grand Marnier).
Choosing oranges is pretty simple. Look for oranges that are firm and heavy for their size. These will be the juiciest. Smaller oranges and those with thin skins also indicate juicy fruit inside. Keep in mind that the skin doesn’t need to be bright orange; many locally grown, in season oranges will have touches of brown or green. You’ll just want to be sure that there aren’t any soft spots or signs of mold. Oranges can be stored at room temperature in a fruit bowl for about a week, or in the refrigerator, where they’ll last up to 3 weeks.
Oranges are an incredibly versatile ingredient in cooking. You can use the flesh, juice and peel in so many different recipes. Orange peel pairs beautifully with olive oil so consider adding zest when whipping up a salad dressing. Orange juice reduces to a gorgeous glaze for fish. And you can liven up recipes that call for oranges by using a few different varieties.
Ready for a surge of C? Try these Crepes with Orange Caramel and Mascarpone.