Are you a low-fat foodie who loves chocolate?
I sure am. Unfortunately, chocolate returns that love with fat and calories. For example, an ounce of Hershey's milk chocolate delivers 152 calories and 8.4 fat grams. An equal amount of dark chocolate (a personal favorite) delivers less than half the sugar (good), but 50-percent more fat (not so good).
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To work with my occasional chocolate cravings, I search out high-quality, real chocolate (frequently organic) and let a small piece (way less than an ounce) slowly melt in my mouth letting its flavor and aroma to tickle my palate and seductively fill my head. Mmmmmmm.
My affinity for chocolate made me take note of a recent article in Eating Well magazine that featured Alice Medrich, author of "Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts."
Medrich says she only uses the best-quality dark chocolate (varieties with 70-percent cocoa solids). "There's a lot of vibrant flavor in such dark chocolates, so you can often use a bit less," she says.
For years I've operated that same way, using less of big-flavored, real ingredients. For example, instead of reduced-fat, processed cheese, I'll use imported Pecorino Romano cheese to top lightly sauced whole wheat pasta. Romano's sharp bite and intoxicating flavor means a little bit delivers big flavor and keeps calories and fat in check. Medrich is a big cocoa fan too, thanks to its upfront chocolate flavor and low-fat content. But, she points out, not all cocoa tastes the same.
At one time Medrich favored Dutch-processed cocoa (cocoa processed with alkali). Since natural cocoa's slightly acidic, alkali processing (Dutching) reduces acidity and develops deeper, less bitter chocolate flavor. That variety was an old standby for years when good-quality natural cocoa (not treated with alkali) was hard to come by.
Today, numerous good to excellent natural cocoas are available. Medrich likes Scharffen Berger natural cocoa, but it's pricey (I found 6-ounce containers ranging from $9.50 to $14.99) and rarely available in supermarkets.
So I head to Penzeys Spices (penzeys.com) for good-quality natural cocoa that goes for $7.50 per pound. The Spice House (Chicago, Evanston and Geneva) also sells a very good natural cocoa for $11.99 per pound.
Medrich uses natural cocoa to create lower-fat Rocky Road Brownies (see Eating Well, February 2011) that look devilishly decadent and may taste even better. Medrich got me thinking about new ways to use cocoa (she also shares her recipe for chile-cocoa graham crackers) in intriguing ways. If you find a natural cocoa to your liking, it may kick-start your own tasty conjuring.
Intrigued by Medrich's Rocky Road Brownies, I took my already-addictive no-fat-added brownies and put them down their own Rocky Road. You may want to end an upcoming Valentine's Day dinner with these. Be careful, though, you may fall in love with them.
Recipe amendment: I've changed some ingredient amounts in the Pasta e Fagioli recipe that appeared on Jan. 5, 2011. The recipe works better with 8 ounces whole wheat macaroni (not 16 ounces) and 6 cups of broth (not 4). The new recipe will be available at dailyherald.com/entlife/food.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.