Monday, February 28, 2011

Gratitude


“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, and confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

— Melody Beattie

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Good Advice


“Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours.”

   Swedish proverb


Thanks for visiting “Food, Faith and Fellowship” today. I hope you’ve dropped in often during February for a daily sampling of loving thoughts (or a virtual chocolate nibble.) It’s been inspiring for me to share a number of thought-provoking quotes and special recipes with you during this month associated with love and chocolate.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve had a chance to try a couple of the recipes and have added the others to your “plan to make these soon” list. I also want to thank those who’ve shared some of their favorite recipes this month: Dianne Towalski (Chocolate Covered Cherries), Sheila Ballweg-Pulju (Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart and Red Velvet Cake), Ann Schleper (Mint Brownies), Troy Frank (Chocolate Cream Cheese Pie), John Wocken (Double Chocolate-Ginger Cookies), Jenna Vavra (Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake) and Kristi Anderson (Chocolate-Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast).

Two others — connected with “Food, Faith and Fellowship” — that I am most grateful to are Joe Towlaski, editor of The Visitor and The Catholic Spirit, who encouraged me to begin this blog last summer and Nikki Rajala, a fellow copy editor at the Visitor, whose expertise I cherish. CJK











Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

Have you thought about what to serve for breakfast or brunch tomorrow morning? Ponder no more. Your kids will love this Chocolate-Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast! They could help you assemble the sweet and easy egg bake this evening. Pop it in the oven tomorrow morning, relax, read the paper and enjoy that extra cup of coffee while it’s baking. Kristi Anderson created this “kid-friendly” version of her *mother’s cream cheese and fresh strawberries egg bake about five years ago. It’s been a family favorite ever since. CJK




Chocolate-Peanut Butter 
Stuffed French Toast
(Kristi Anderson)


1/2 cup melted butter
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon
12 slices white bread
6 tbsp. peanut butter
1/2 cup chocolate chips
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk

Syrup


Lightly grease a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with no-stick cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix together butter, sugar and cinnamon. Spread in pan. Spread 1 tbsp. peanut butter on each of 6 pieces of bread. Lay the bread peanut butter side up in the baking pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the peanut butter. Top with remaining bread slices. Beat eggs and milk together; pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Bake uncovered at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with your favorite syrup.

Yield: 8 servings

A note from Kristi: My mother got the original recipe for this egg bake while I was in high school. Her recipe is the same except that she used *cream cheese for the filling instead of using chocolate chips and peanut butter. Mom cubed the bread and covered it with 8 oz. of cubed cream cheese, which melts and spreads into mixture. She topped it with fresh strawberries (and syrup for those who wanted it) when she served it. It was heavenly!

Over the years, we’ve tried many variations, including canned apple pie filling and fresh blueberries served with blueberry syrup. It’s a recipe that is open to imagination — it could be topped with whipped cream or even ice cream.

A note from Carol: Kristi Anderson is a fabulous cook! Fortunately, she possesses a generous nature, too — her family, friends and co-workers frequently benefit from her continuing quest for trendy and downright fun recipes. Recently she’s shared an assortment of delightful whoopee pies, an array of “to die for” cake pops and a zesty green pork chili with individuals who work in our building. Watch for more of Kristi’s innovative recipes in Food, Faith and Fellowship.

Kristi and her husband, Chris Anderson, and their three children, Tori (16), Will (8), and Max (7) are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. She serves as the administrative staff person for the St. Cloud Diocese’s Offices of Development, Vocations and the Catholic Foundation. Kristi, the daughter of Deacon Steve and Laurel Yanish, is currently working on a master’s of theology degree in pastoral ministry through the St. John’s School of Theology/Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota.






Friday, February 25, 2011

Be confident

“Act as if it were 
impossible 
to fail.”

— Dorothea Brande



Tomorrow’s special treat: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hospitality is …


“Guests should be received as Christ, for he himself will say, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’ ” (Matthew 25:35)

— Adapted from The Rule of Benedict

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Believe in yourself


“I am larger, better than I thought. I did not know I held so much goodness.”

— Walt Whitman

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake

I love raspberries. And, I love chocolate. So this Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake would surely be a treat for me. Jenna Vavra recently baked one for her mother-in-law’s birthday and says that while it’s easy to make, the final result is impressive — gorgeous and scrumptious. And divine. Even though it begins with a “devil’s food” cake, this could be called “a match made in confection heaven.” CJK 



Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake
(Jenna Vavra)


Photo by Jenna Vavra
1 devil’s food cake mix

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped

2 pints fresh raspberries

1/2 cup pecan halves
1 dark chocolate candy bar

Prepare and bake the cake according to package directions, using two 9-inch round baking pans. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth; stir in chopped pecans. Fold in whipped cream. (Reserve 1/2 cup of this mixture for decorating top of cake.)

*Split each cake into two horizontal layers. Place one layer on a serving plate; top with a fourth of the remaining cream cheese mixture. Arrange 1 cup raspberries over filling; repeat layers three times.

Garnish with reserved cream cheese mixture, raspberries, pecan halves and **chocolate curls. Refrigerate until serving.

Yield: 12 servings

A note from Jenna: *Make sure your cake is completely cooled before attempting to cut it into layers. Using a serrated knife and keeping the knife level, cut into the side of the cake about a quarter of the way, continually turn the cake and cut until finished.

Once the four layers are cut, there will be two layers with rounded tops. When placing these onto the cake, flip them upside down so there will be a level surface for the filling to be placed on.

**Use a high quality candy bar for the chocolate curls. (I like a dark chocolate candy bar — the darker the better in my opinion — such as Ghirardelli.) Create the curls by shaving the side of the chocolate bar with a vegetable peeler.

A note from Carol: Jenna loves spending time in the kitchen preparing great meals and special treats for her husband, Corin, and their daughters, Carley Ann (8) and Audrey Vaughn (3 mos.). She shares her culinary talents through “jenna knows best!” — a perky and inviting blog, which features recipes, kitchen tips and entertaining ideas. Jenna does billing and transcribing for the St. Cloud Diocesan Tribunal. She and her family are members of St. Paul Parish in St. Cloud, Minnesota.






Monday, February 21, 2011

No act is too small


“We realize that what we are accomplishing is a drop in the ocean. But if this drop were not in the ocean, it would be missed.”

   Mother Teresa


Tomorrow’s special treat: Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Giving is receiving


“May it be, oh Lord, 
That I seek not so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. Because it is in giving oneself that one receives; it is in forgetting oneself that one is found; it is in pardoning that one obtains pardon.”

   St. Francis of Assisi

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Double Chocolate-Ginger Cookies

John Wocken developed this unique recipe for Double Chocolate-Ginger Cookies by combining a childhood memory with a trendy new twist. He fondly recalls the Cry Babies his grandmother made — an easy-to-prepare ginger cookie that was rolled in sugar before baking. He decided to experiment with his grandma’s recipe after trying a Martha Stewart ginger cookie with fresh ginger in it. Since John is a chocolate-lover, he added cocoa powder and chocolate chips to intensify the flavor of the original cookies. Take your taste buds to a whole new level with this spirited morsel of complex bold flavors! CJK




Double Chocolate-Ginger Cookies
(Created by John R. Wocken)


1 1/2 cups shortening
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
8 tbsp. molasses

4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
4 tsp. soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
1 (12 oz.) pkg. chocolate chips

Cream the shortening and sugar together, and then add the eggs and molasses and mix.  Mix the dry ingredients together and combine with the shortening mixture.  Add the chocolate chips.  Chill the dough for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and roll each in granulated sugar. Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to continue cooling.

Yield: 5 1/2 dozen cookies

A note from John: I like to make plenty of these cookies and store them in the freezer to be brought out later when I have a craving for something chocolaty. Keeping them frozen prevents eating too many at one time and allows me to enjoy them over a longer period.

A note from Carol: John Wocken, Bishop John Kinney’s personal chef, appeared in the first entry of “Food, Faith and Fellowship” posted Aug. 24, 2010. He shared a recipe for Striped Ice Cream Cake, which he served as the impressive finale to an outdoor luncheon celebrating Bishop Kinney’s 15 years as bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud.







Thursday, February 17, 2011

Choose to act


“I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can still do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

   Helen Keller

Tomorrow’s special treat: Double Chocolate-Ginger Cookies

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stretch your heart

“The person who doesn’t fit in with our notions of who is worthy of our love — the bag lady at the corner, the strange old man who rides through town on a three-wheel bike all strung up with flags — is just the person who, by not fitting into our patterns, insists that we expand not only our views but also our capacity to love. 


Today, see if you can stretch your heart and expand your love so that it touches not only those to whom you can give it easily, but also to those who need it so much.”
 — Daphne Rose Kingma

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A lesson from crayons

We could learn a lot from crayons.
Some are sharp,
some are pretty,
some are dull,
some have weird names.
All are different,
but they have to live
in the same box.

— Anonymous

Monday, February 14, 2011

Key to a joyful marriage


“I would like to have engraved inside every wedding band ‘be kind to one another.  This is the Golden Rule of marriage and the secret of making love last through the years.”

   Randolph Ray

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Red Velvet Cake

Last week when my friend, Sheila Ballweg-Pulju, and I discussed her recipe for the Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart, we reminisced about other chocolate recipes. Red Velvet Cake was one of them. The attractive, elegant cake — with its own special frosting — enjoyed celebrity status during our teen years and has recently become quite fashionable again. I appreciate that Sheila is sharing the original recipe she received from a friend around 45 years ago. One thing that hasn’t changed in all these years is how this rich, luscious confection still evokes pure chocolate happiness! CJK




Red Velvet Cake
(Sheila Ballweg-Pulju)


Cake
1 cup butter or shortening
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. cocoa powder
2 oz. red food coloring*
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vinegar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter or shortening, eggs and sugar. In a separate small bowl, mix together the cocoa and food coloring to form a paste. Add the paste to the shortening mixture. Sift the flour and salt together and add to the batter alternately with the buttermilk in three additions. Add the vanilla extract. Fold in the baking soda and vinegar.

Pour the batter into the cake pans. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a cooling rack and then invert the cakes from the pans.


White Frosting 
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Over medium heat, cook the flour and milk until thickened. Let cool. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour mixture.

Frost the top of the first layer with frosting and set the second layer on top. Then frost the entire cake with remaining frosting.


A note from Sheila: *In a pinch, I have used one (1 oz.) bottle of red food coloring and 1 oz. of water and was pleased with the results although the cake’s color was not as intense as the original. I usually use butter when I prepare the cake — it adds richness.

I have often made cupcakes with this recipe as well. They are a little less work than making a layer cake and turn out so pretty. (Bake them in the preheated oven until the tops spring back when lightly pressed — about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool them in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely before frosting.)

A note from Carol: Sheila’s recipe for the Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart was posted on Food, Faith and Fellowship on Feb. 7. 






Saturday, February 12, 2011

Little things count

“A happy life is made up of little things — a gift sent, a letter written, a call made, a recommendation given, transportation provided, a cake made, a book lent, a check sent.”

   Carol Holmes


Tomorrow’s special treat: Red Velvet Cake

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chocolate Cream Cheese Pie

“Tastes like velvet — chocolaty, smooth, rich” — words for Troy Frank’s Chocolate Cream Cheese Pie. This exquisite dessert is perfect for special occasions. Makes me think of chocolate paradise! CJK



Chocolate Cream Cheese Pie
(Troy Frank)

1 pre-made Oreo cookie piecrust
12 oz. pkg. semisweet chocolate chips
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed, divided
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, separated into whites and yolks*
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Melt the chocolate chips in microwave or top of double boiler over hot water. Remove from the heat and cool for 10 minutes.

Beat the cream cheese in a bowl until smooth, using an electric mixer at medium speed. Gradually add 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, salt and vanilla, blending well. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the cooled chocolate.

Beat the egg whites in another bowl until foamy, using an electric mixer at high speed. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, one tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until stiff, glossy peaks form when the beaters are slowly lifted.

Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg white mixture. Then fold in the whipped cream. Gently pour into the chocolate crust.

Chill pie in refrigerator overnight.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

* This recipe contains raw eggs, which people in at-risk groups should avoid eating.

A note from Troy: Any kind of brown sugar can be used in this recipe, but I prefer using dark brown sugar because it gives the pie a richer flavor. I cut the pie into small pieces because it is very rich. I always make it with an Oreo cookie crust but a graham cracker crust could be substituted to give the pie a lighter touch.

A note from Carol: Troy Frank is the lead cook and baker at St. Scholastica Convent in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he has worked for 23 years. Troy and his wife, Becky, have two children: Katie (10) and Logan (7). The Franks are members of St. Patrick Parish in Minden Township, near Sauk Rapids, Minnesota.






Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ask yourself...

“Life’s most persistent
and urgent question is,
‘What are you doing 
for others?’ ”

  Martin Luther King, Jr.





Tomorrow’s special treat: Chocolate Cream Cheese Pie

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mint Brownies

For Valentine’s Day this year, Ann Schleper is making a batch of these fabulous brownies for each of her daughters, Lisa and Karen. She plans to make the mint layer pink and decorate each bar with a red heart made of piped frosting. When she bakes these treats at Christmastime, she uses green food coloring for the mint layer, which would also be a good idea for St. Patrick’s Day. I was fortunate enough to sample one of Ann’s brownies at a potluck held in our building a while ago and fondly remember how the mint and chocolate flavors meld into a much-loved classic combination. CJK



Mint Brownies
(Ann Schleper)

2 sticks, plus 7 1/2 tbsp. butter, softened, separated
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
Photo by Sue Schulzetenberg 
1 (16 oz.) can Hershey’s syrup
1 cup flour
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp. milk
Food coloring
1 tsp. peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Brownie Layer:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 10- x 15-inch jelly roll pan.

Cream 1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter with 1 cup sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add Hershey’s syrup, blending well. Mix in flour. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes, watching closely so they are not overbaked. Cool.

Mint Layer:
Beat 2 cups powdered sugar with 1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter. Add the milk, food coloring and peppermint extract. Spread on the cooled brownie layer. Refrigerate until this layer is set — at least 30 minutes.

Frosting Layer:
Melt 7 1/2 tbsp. butter with chocolate chips. Spread over cooled bars and refrigerate.

Yield: 48 bars

A note from Ann: I’ve found a trick to prevent the frosting from cracking when cutting the brownies into bars — remove them from the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for at least 45 minutes before cutting.

A note from Carol: Ann has been making these brownies ever since her husband got the recipe from one of his coworkers more than 25 years ago. In addition to cooking and baking, she enjoys music, scrapbooking, camping and biking. She and her husband, Jim, enjoy playing guitars together as part of the church musicians’ ensemble at St. Paul Parish in St. Cloud, where they are members. Ann is the assistant to the director at the diocesan Office of Worship in St. Cloud, Minnesota.






Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A simple act

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

   St. Thérèse of Lisieux



Tomorrow’s special treat: Chocolate brownies with a twist of mint!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart

Sheila Ballweg-Pulju and I have been friends for over 30 years. She’s an excellent cook and baker. This is one of her favorite chocolate recipes — it’s easy to prepare yet yields a gourmet-quality dessert. She recalls that one of her former teaching colleagues passed it on to her several years ago after she found it in Alice Medrich’s “Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts.” It’s definitely over the top! Delight in every mouthful! CJK



Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart
(Sheila Ballweg-Pulju)


Graham cracker crust:
1 pkg. graham crackers (9 double crackers)
3 tbsp. sugar
6 tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Finely crush the graham crackers. Combine them with the sugar and butter. Pat the mixture into a 10 x 1-inch circular tart pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Cool.

Filling:
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Microwave the chocolate in a heatproof bowl at 50 percent power for 3 minutes. (This will help prevent lumps when adding the cream.)

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let it sit for 30 seconds. Gently stir the mixture until smooth — take care not to beat it too hard.

Pour mixture into the tart shell. Chill for 3 to 4 hours before serving.

Yield: 12 to 16 servings


A note from Sheila: Cut very thin slices when serving, as this tart is deliciously rich.

A note from Carol: Sheila was a special education teacher in the St. Cloud (Minnesota) School District for 33 years, retiring in 2008. She and her husband, Richard Pulju, are members of St. Boniface Church in Cold Spring, Minnesota. Her interests include volunteering for her parish, cooking, decorating, gardening, playing the piano, golfing and enjoying time with their three grandchildren: Caroline (8) and Matthew and Vivian (both nearing the age of 6.)







Sunday, February 6, 2011

Like wildfire


“The power of kindness is immense. It is nothing less, really, than the power to change the world.”

         Daphne Rose Kingma


Tomorrow’s special treat: A recipe for an easy yet elegant chocolate truffle tart.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chocolate Covered Cherries

Though a Christmas treat for Dianne Towalski and her family, these chocolate covered cherries are a perfect choice for the Valentine season as well! If you make them this weekend, they should have just enough time to create a sweet, delectable cordial. CJK


Chocolate Covered Cherries
(Dianne Towalski)

Photo by Dianne Towalski
2 (10 oz.) jars maraschino cherries
8 oz. cream cheese 
2 lbs. confectioner’s sugar
2 lbs. chocolate pieces*

Dry cherries on paper towels for 30 to 45 minutes. (They should no longer be moist.)

Once the cherries are dry, melt the chocolate in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. Stir. Heat again for another 10 to 15 seconds and stir again. Repeat this process until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

To create the inner fondant layer, mix the cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar together, kneading by hand. Do not mix in all the sugar at once — keep adding to the mixture and kneading until it is no longer sticky. (Some batches may require all of the confectioner’s sugar; others may use less than two pounds and, occasionally, a batch may need a little more — the humidity in the kitchen dictates the amount needed.)

Form the fondant into balls and flatten them into small, thin circles. (It may take a little practice to discover the right size circle to fit around the cherries.) Wrap the fondant circles around each cherry and dip each one into the melted chocolate by holding the stem.

Cover and store the cherries for at least seven days to allow them to form the cordial.


*A note from Dianne: My mom, Vicky Williams, and I use E. Guittard chocolate wafers for this recipe. I like the dark chocolate best but others in our family prefer the milk chocolate so we always make half the recipe with each kind. I look forward to these special treats every year. My mom, my daughter Erin and sister-in-law Patty and I had a lot of fun making them together at our house last December.

A note from Carol: Dianne Towalski, The Visitor’s graphic designer, raves about these homemade chocolate covered cherries every year. I’m so glad she is sharing her family recipe. (I’ve only tasted those that have been commercially prepared. I think of my late grandfather, Ralph Prather, every time I eat one — they were his favorite candy!)

Dianne’s maternal grandmother, Marge Arnold, learned how to make these chocolate covered cherries from a friend about 30 years ago. For many years afterward at Christmas time she presented her children’s families with a box of homemade candy including the special cherries. Marge, now in her 80s and living in North Carolina, continues to carry on this holiday tradition with children and grandchildren living in that area.



At Christmastime last year, Marge Arnold, Dianne Towlaski’s grandmother,
shared the knack of wrapping homemade fondant around maraschino cherries
with her great-granddaughter, Sydney Bronack, prior to dipping them
in chocolate. 
(Photo courtesy of Dianne Towalski)




Friday, February 4, 2011

Chocolate’s history — dark, rich and intense

Cacao seeds and fruit
Chocolate — the mere mention of its name brings, for most of us, a desire to tantalize our taste buds with at least a tidbit of the tempting treat whose official scientific name is “Theobroma cacao” — “food of the gods.”

Chocolate’s long history starts in the tropical rainforests near the equator. Its story may have begun with the Olmec people who inhabited what is now Mexico almost 3,000 years ago. However, the earliest clear record of humans consuming chocolate is the Maya, around 1,500 years ago. The Maya lived in the same region as the earlier Olmecs and built a great civilization that included huge temples, hieroglyphics, accurate calendars — and a passion for chocolate. From what remains of their art and hieroglyphics, it is known that the Maya held chocolate (made from the seeds of the cacao tree) in highest esteem and even offered it to their gods.

Quetzalcóatl
Instead of eating chocolate, the Maya drank it from pots and added spices to it. So did the Aztecs, who followed in the Mayan footsteps and rose to power around 1200 A.D. They ruled over a wide empire centered in Tenochtitlán, located in what is today Mexico City. Because their lands were outside of, but close to, the rainforests of Central America, they traded for the cacao seeds or demanded them as payment from the people they conquered. They, too, offered chocolate to their god, Quetzalcóatl.  

Montezuma II, the last Aztec emperor, was said to have a warehouse that contained 960 million cacao seeds (which would be enough to make 25 million chocolate bars today). He needed a large supply — the ruler, his court, guards and servants drank about 2,000 pots each day.

Both chocolate and the Aztec world encountered many changes shortly after Christopher Columbus reached the Americas in 1492. The Spanish conquistadors — soldiers looking for gold, followed him. Hernando Cortés, the leader of the Spanish army that defeated the Aztecs, called chocolate “the divine drink which fights fatigue.” For the most part, that chocolate drink was bitter, harsh and spicy-hot to the tongue. But, sugar changed all that.

The Spaniards invented a drink that became all the rage by adding sugar to crushed cacao seeds and mixing both with water. The rest of Europe was unaware of the new Spanish drink for quite a while as some of the first chocolate makers were monks, hidden away in monasteries. It is said that a Spanish princess brought chocolate from Spain to France around 1630.

As chocolate spread so did its popularity. “Chocolate houses” — meeting places for drinking chocolate or coffee and arguing about politics — became the stylish places to be seen in the 1600s. Debates arose, just as they do today, about the effects of chocolate on health. Some people even said, “Drinking chocolate could cause a person to fall in love.”

Chocolate and sugar were both very expensive and the drink was reserved for the upper classes. Then, in 1828 a Dutch inventor, named Coenraad Van Houten, built a press that could separate the shelled, crushed cacao seeds (known as chocolate liquor) into their two distinct parts: a fatty part (called cocoa butter) and a purer chocolate part. Van Houten’s invention changed the world of chocolate forever — no longer was it only available in liquid form but now chocolate makers could mold candy bars by mixing chocolate liquor with smaller portions of cocoa butter and sugar.

Other inventions occurred over time and each of them helped to improve the quality of chocolate until it has reached the wonderful creation, in its wide variety of forms, that we know today. Modern-day factories turn out thousands of candy bars and chocolate treats every hour — making it available not only for special occasions but every day of the year.

How chocolate became associated with Valentine’s Day is another story in itself. Every year Americans spend more than $1 billion on candy (much of it chocolate) in celebration of St. Valentine’s Day — Feb. 14.

St. Valentine was traditionally honored on his Feb. 14 feast day up until 1969 when the church dropped the day from the official Roman Catholic calendar. “His” history was unclear as the Roman Martyrology lists two early martyrs named Valentine on Feb. 14. One was a priest, likely of Rome, who is said to have died under the persecution of Claudius II. The other Valentine is said to have been the bishop of Terni, Italy. Because these men lived so long ago, their legacies are based on legend rather than fact, which is the reason the church made the change.

Legend or not, Valentine’s Day is here to stay in the secular world. It has become not only a special day for “lovers” but also a day for remembering all those whom we love. Chocolate often plays its role in helping us make others feel special whether they are our spouses, girlfriends or boyfriends, parents, children, grandchildren, friends or co-workers. CJK

Tomorrow’s special treat: A surprisingly easy recipe for homemade chocolate covered cherries.