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Released February 18, 2003

Spice up your life
Take a dip into chocolate's rich history and flavor

LONG BEACH -- Spice up your life by taking a dip into chocolate's rich history and flavor.

The irrepressible scoundrel, Casanova, was said to have preferred chocolate to champagne as an aphrodisiac. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he chose chocolate for its restorative powers after a night of partying. In his day, it was common to begin the day with a cup of chocolate.

Among the great technical advances of the 19th century were two wonderful developments in terms of chocolate. The first came in 1828 when the process for making cocoa was patented by C. J. van Houten. Then, in 1847, an English company combined cocoa butter, chocolate liquor and sugar to make a chocolate fit for eating plain. By the end of the 19th century, chocolate was something schoolchildren drank.

Chocolate actually begins as yellow fruit pods dangling from the trunk and main branches of the tropical cacao tree. Each pod contains about 40 almond-sized cocoa beans. After the pods ripen, the beans are placed in the sun for several days to dry and ferment. They are then cleaned, dried, cured and roasted to develop flavor and reduce bitterness. Then they are crushed to release the nib. The nibs are then shipped to chocolate manufacturers where they are roasted, then crushed again into a thick paste known as chocolate liquor.

This chocolate liquor contains about 53 percent fat, which is known as cocoa butter. The chocolate liquor is further refined into the forms ready for use.

If you are interested in melting chocolate for your uses, remember two simple rules. First, the chocolate should not exceed a temperature of 120 degrees or there will be some flavor loss. And most importantly, water must never come into contact with the chocolate. If water does come into contact with the chocolate, it will seize. If seizing does occur, the addition of fat, such as shortening or cocoa butter will somewhat restore the chocolate to a workable condition.

Chocolate is available in many forms and varieties for many uses. White chocolate is not chocolate at all, but a man-made product that does not contain any chocolate solids or chocolate liquor. The finest white chocolates may contain cocoa butter with other ingredients. Chocolate is high in calories and fats. It does contain small amounts of vitamin A and some trace minerals. All chocolates should be stored at a cool, consistent temperature, away from strong odors and moisture.

Try the following chocolate recipes and spice up your life.

Chocolate Dipped Apricots

1/3 c. sugar

2 strips lemon zest

1 cinnamon stick

24 dried apricots

2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 T. chopped peeled pistachio

Line a baking sheet with wax paper and place a wire rack on top; set aside. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon stick and one cup of water; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for three minutes. Add apricots and gently simmer just until tender, six to eight minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the apricots to the rack. Let cool completely. In a small metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate. Dip half of a poached apricot in the chocolate, letting the excess drip off. Sprinkle some chopped pistachios over the chocolate half and return the apricot to the rack. Repeat with the remaining apricots. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set, about 20 minutes. Store in an airtight container, with wax paper between each layer, in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Healthy Chocolate Mousse

3/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips, melted

1 pkg. extra-firm tofu

1/4 t. salt

3 large egg whites

½ c. sugar

1/4 c. water

fat-free whipped topping, thawed

grated chocolate or cocoa (optional)

Place chocolate and tofu in a food processor or blender, and process two minutes or until smooth. Place salt and egg whites in a medium bowl, and beat with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until candy thermometer register 238 degrees. Pour the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over the egg whites, beating at high speed. Gently stir one-fourth of meringue into the tofu mixture; gently fold in remaining meringue. Spoon a half of a cup of mousse into each of the eight, six ounce custard cups. Cover and chill for at least four hours. Garnish with whipped topping and grated chocolate, if desired.

Chocolate Chiffon Pie

½ oz. gelatin

2 ½ c. milk

½ c. unsweetened chocolate

3/4 c. sugar, divided into 4 oz. and 2 oz.1/4 t. salt

6 eggs, separated

2 t. vanilla

2 graham cracker pie crusts

whipped cream for garnish

chocolate shavings for garnish

Mix the gelatin in a small amount of water, according to package directions to soften and set aside. Combine the milk and chocolate in a heavy saucepan and warm over low heat until the chocolate melts. Add four ounces of the sugar, the salt and the egg yolks. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and add the gelatin, stirring until completely dissolved. Pour the mixture into a bowl and chill until very thick.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Add the vanilla and the remaining sugar and whip to stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the chocolate. Mound the chiffon into the pie shells and chill for several hours before serving. Garnish with the whipped cream and chocolate shavings as desired.

Chef Pam Lewis is lead instructor of Southern Miss Gulf Coast Culinary Arts Academy. For information on the

Southern MissGC Culinary Arts Academy, call (228) 214-3240. For recipe/story requests, culinary questions or

comments, e-mail Chef Pam at pamela.lewis@usm.edu or write to her at

Chef Pam Lewis, Culinary Arts Academy

The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast

730 East Beach Blvd.

Long Beach, MS 39560

-30-

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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