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Often lovingly referred to as the “other food group,” chocolate has become an obsession, inspiring everything from recipes, stories, cravings and a host of products from funky-flavored chocolate bars to bubble bath.

Cacao trees are native to Mexico, Central and South America. Cultivated for over 3,000 years, Mayans drank chocolate both as an everyday beverage and for ceremonial purposes. The frothy bitter concoction was mixed with vanilla, chile peppers and achiote (annatto). Turning cacao beans into the tasty sweet confection we all know and crave is a complicated process—only a handful of companies all over the world truly make their own chocolate. Most candy shops buy chocolate in blocks, melt it and shape it into candies and other sweet treats.

Xocoatl, as it was known in the Mayan culture, was believed to be used to fight fatigue due to the theobromine content. Today, chocolate is considered to have many therapeutic benefits including cancer-fighting antioxidants, circulatory benefits and many studies are being conducted on using chocolate to fight obesity. While this is certainly good news and really any excuse to eat chocolate is a good one, I urge you to take heed of the adage “you get what you pay for.”

Not all chocolate is good chocolate. In fact, there is a lot of bad chocolate out there. Thankfully, it is easy to find the good stuff. Look at the ingredients on the label. There should be just a small handful of ingredients: CACAO PASTE, sugar, COCOA BUTTER, lecithin, and vanilla for dark chocolate. For milk chocolate add milk and for white chocolate, (which is not really chocolate due to the fact that it does not have cocoa paste or cocoa mass but does have cocoa butter) mix sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder and vanilla. That’s it! No other ingredients should be in the chocolate. Notice that cacao paste is listed first. Great chocolate should have a high concentration of cacao, not other ingredients.

There are many great chocolates on the market that are kosher. In fact, there is no reason that great chocolate cannot be kosher. I am lucky enough to have recently been in Paris where I slurped and stuffed myself full of chocolate for one solid week. Armed with my list of kosher chocolate companies and bakeries, I ate my way through the city of lights. You also can enjoy amazing chocolate if you follow a few simple rules.

• Buy the good stuff. You are feeding your family and friends. They deserve the good chocolate. Do not cut corners. Cheap chocolate cannot be disguised by any amount of other ingredients in a recipe. My favorites are: Callebaut chocolates, for cooking, baking and eating, and Valrhona Cocoa powder, an amazing cocoa powder with a deep, dark color and flavor.

• Remember Chef Laura’s golden rule: do not use substitute ingredients. Butter is butter, cream is cream, margarine is never good and non-dairy whipped topping comes from a laboratory and should not be ingested by humans.

Now that you have the rules-go forth and enjoy!

Chili Con Carne

The chocolate in this recipe adds not only a faint sweetness but also an earthy and robust flavor. I love the way the chocolate makes the texture of the chili velvety. My kids like to garnish their chili with additional chopped chocolate and cacao nibs which are the cracked shell of the cacao bean. They add a crunch as well as cocoa butter fragrance. Cocoa nibs are found easily in the baking aisle of most grocery stores and online.

2 pounds lean ground beef
2 large red onions, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, toasted and torn into pieces
1 chipotle chile
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 15-ounce cans tomato puree
1 3-ounce can tomato paste
1 32-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
2 cups dried pinto beans or canned
2 cups dark brown chicken stock (see recipe, page)
2 cups dark beer-such as Guinness or Aventinus
¼ cup finely chopped dark chocolate

1. Brown the beef in batches in olive oil over medium heat. Brown the onions until they are caramelized and soft. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 2 minutes until the garlic has softened slightly. Add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 3 hours until the beans are tender. Remove the chipotle chile before serving.

Suggested garnishes: fresh or frozen corn niblets, lime wedges, tortilla chips, fresh flat leaf parsley and fresh cilantro, chopped scallions, chopped jalapeno peppers, chopped red onions, cocoa nibs, chopped chocolate

DIY Chocolate bubble bath

Looking for a chocolate recipe that won’t go to your thighs? Here’s one you can really enjoy!

1 cup of unscented bubble bath
½ cup of dried milk powder
3 ounces powdered unsweetened chocolate

Mix the powdered milk and chocolate well, until blended.  Stir into bubble bath until well mixed. Add to your bath in the amount desired. Relax and enjoy the fragrance of chocolate without worrying your waistline!

Chocolate Pound Cake

We cannot have a meal in our house without chocolate. I wrote this recipe years ago when I was looking for a good pareve pound cake. I wanted a simple presentation that did not require lots of fuss but still delivered the big chocolate flavor I was looking for. Attention home cooks: there is no margarine in this recipe because you can still have your cake and eat it too-even pareve!

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup best quality cocoa powder (I only use Valrhona)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I only use Callebaut 71%), melted
3 eggs
½ cup brewed coffee
1 ½ cups brown sugar
½ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Lightly grease a loaf pan with canola oil and then dust it with cocoa powder.

1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside
2. Mix the chocolate, eggs, coffee, brown sugar and vanilla together in a small mixing bowl.
3. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Be careful not to over mix or the cake will be tough. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in a preheated oven for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick can be inserted and will have moist crumbs on it.
4. Place the cake pan on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and unmold onto a plate. Dust with powdered sugar.

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