At this time of year, it's hard not to feel the pull of chocolate. Though stores pack their shelves with Valentine's Day treats, not all chocolate is created equal (and not all chocolate desserts are equal either).
Though blocks and chips of semi-sweet chocolate get the job done, more and more of our recipes call for "good-quality chocolate." By this, we mean bars of bittersweet or milk chocolate with high percentages of cocoa butter and cocoa solids (and less added milk and sugar) than traditional baking chocolate. Pastry chefs teach us that fine chocolate is not just for truffles and fillings -- it elevates desserts by adding silkiness and shine to mousses and ganaches and depth of flavour to cakes and cookies.
So in honour of Saint Valentine, forget the cutesy tins and schmaltzy heart-shaped boxes -- treat your sweetie to a batch of favourite brownies (or our tested til perfect Chocolate Fudge Brownies made with fine bittersweet chocolate. Most grocery stores have several brands (usually European) of chocolate bars, such as Lindt and Valrhona, that print the percentages of cocoa solids right on the label. In place of semisweet chocolate, use 70 or 85 per cent for a smooth, robust chocolate taste; in place of unsweetened chocolate, use 99 per cent (or 100 per cent) for a more complex and lingering flavour. We can't think of a better way to say I love you.
• 1 oz (30g) bittersweet chocolate = 1 square unsweetened, semisweet or bittersweet baking chocolate (semisweet is sweeter)
• 1 oz (30g) semisweet chocolate = 1 oz (30g) unsweetened chocolate plus 1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar
• 1 cup (250 mL) semi-sweet chips = 6 oz (175g) chopped bittersweet chocolate
Page 1 of 4 -- Find romantic ideas for a special dinner-and-movie date night on page 2
Dinner and a movie - can you think of a better way to spend Valentine's day? Here are three of our favourite amorous food flicks (and some accompanying recipe ideas) to help your enjoy a romantic evening at home.
A mysterious woman (Juliette Binoche) opens a chocolate shop in a small French village during Lent, shakes up the morality of the community and eventually finds love with a handsome river rat (Johnny Depp).
It would be very hard indeed to watch this film without your own hand-picked selection of chocolate treats nearby.
Mostly Martha (2002)
Martha is the head chef at a chic German restaurant. Her cooking is precise, uncompromising and perfect -- until she hires a charming and carefree Italian chef. Eating pasta on the floor has never seemed so enchanting.
Tom Jones (1963)
This movie version of Henry Fielding's novel stars Albert Finney as the lovable adopted son of a British country squire who embarks on a journey of sexual adventures (including the disreputable Molly). After this film, you will never eat lobster the same way again.
Who doesn't love dunking chunks of fresh bread in melted cheese? This tasty dish originated in the canton of Neuchatel, Switzerland, in the 18th century when wine and cheese were common ingredients in most homes.
Fondue is made from at least two cheese varieties (we love the traditional Gruyère and Emmenthaler combination because Emmenthaler mellows the fuller flavoured Gruyère), melted with a bit of wine and bound with flour or cornstarch to prevent the cheese from separating. This just might be the perfect winter dish for entertaining -- it's communal, fun and requires little more than grating cheese and opening some wine.
Intrigued? Check out our fabulous recipe for Swiss Cheese Fondue.
Fabulous fondue tips:
• Cut baguette or crusty French or Italian bread into bite-sized cubes so that each piece has a bit of crust to anchor it on the fork during dunking.
• If the fondue gets too thick, add some warmed wine; if the fondue is too soft, add more cheese.
• When the fondue is finished a thin crust remains in the pan -- a real treat called religieuse in Switzerland. You can divide it among your guests or, scramble an egg in the crust (but we recommend stealing the pot away to the kitchen and enjoying it yourself).
• Leftover fondue is great reheated in the oven over bread or boiled potatoes.
Dry or semi-dry white wines such as Swiss Fendant, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling are the best choices for cooking with fondue or drinking alongside.
Switzerland's oldest and most important cheese is named for Emmental valley. Made from cow's milk, it is light gold with marble-size holes, a natural light brown rind and a distinctively sweet, nutty flavour.
Named for Switzerland's Gruyère valley in the canton of Fribourg, this cow's-milk cheese is usually aged for 10 to 12 months, has a firm, pale yellow interior, medium-size holes and a sweet, nutty, full flavour that is prized both for cooking and eating out-of-hand.
Many people have a fondue set hidden away in a closet, but if you are looking to buy a new one, ceramic pots (called a caquelon or caclon) are traditional for cheese and chocolate as they hold the heat without burning. On the other hand, metal pots are designed for broth and oil fondues.
No pot? Don't worry. For a family dinner, use a heavy bottomed pot and bring it right to the table, though you will have to get up a few times to reheat the congealed cheese.
Page 3 of 4 -- Add a little burst of sunshine to your long winter days with fresh citrus juice recipes on page 4
Here's a few other tasty types of citrus fruits to help you plan the perfect blend:
• Blood Oranges: red-fleshed oranges that make a lovely rich, sour-sweet crimson juice.
• Meyer Lemons: sweeter than ordinary lemons, these make a tasty orangey-lemon juice that is great on its own or blended with other citrus fruits.
• Mineola: a tangerine-grapefruit cross with a sweet-sour, brightly coloured juice (and knobby end).
• Seville Oranges: this sour, bitter juice is great for cocktails or added to a blend.
• Tangerines: bright, sweet juice that is delicious alone or to sweeten a blend.
• Ugli Fruit: a grapefruit-mandarin orange cross (that looks like a really wrinkly grapefruit) with lively sweet-sour juice.
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