Winning combo of wine and chocolate

Seeing as next Monday is Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d focus on chocolate this week. Dark chocolate has been proven to have great heart health benefits and to release ‘happy hormones’ in the brain.

It also contains eight times the antioxidants found in strawberries, so strawberries dipped in dark chocolate are the perfect treat to share with your valentine.

For maximum health benefits, choose chocolate with at least a 70pc cocoa content as this is where most of the nutrients are.

Chocolate contains over 300 chemicals and scientists are continually working to unlock its secrets. A study by Holland’s National Institute of Public Health and Environment shows dark chocolate contains four times the antioxidant catechins found in green tea.

‘The American Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry’ tested the levels of antioxidants in various foods and found that dark chocolate scored very highly across the board with twice as much polyphenol antioxidants as red wine.

These have terrific benefits for heart health by lowering high blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels and protecting arteries from free-radical damage.

The Neurosciences Institute in California has been performing its own research. They discovered that theobromine is one of the reasons why eating chocolate is so pleasurable. Physical reactions range from greater alertness to a reaction similar to smoking marijauna!

However theobromine, when taken in excess, can cause feelings of anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, heart disease, intestinal problems and mood swings.

To get the nutritional benefits, quality and quantity are key.

Top Tips For Enjoying Chocolate

* Choose a chocolate with at least 70pc cocoa.

* Enjoy one or two squares a day and up to 100g a week.

* Avoid ‘junky’ chocolate with little cocoa and lots of additives and sugar.

* Try dark chocolate with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon for double the antioxidants!

* For after-dinner nibbles, put out a bowl of small dark chocolate pieces, dried cranberries and hazelnuts.

* Try dark chocolate pieces with salty peanuts — addictive!

* Store in a cool, dark place with good air circulation. Dark chocolate will last up to a year (if you can resist it).

* To avoid the ‘sugar bloom’ on chocolate when storing in the fridge, wrap in layers of foil and then clingfilm.

* If you store your chocolate in the freezer, wrap well and allow to defrost in the fridge

Monica’s Magic Molten Chocolate Pudding

This is my mom’s recipe and is the easiest, most decadent chocolate pudding. It is like a giant chocolate fondant baked in a lasagna-type dish.

There are two parts to the recipe, a sponge batter and a sauce. These get made separately and then poured into the dish. They curdle and look strange, but during baking they separate and you get chocolate sponge on the top and a rich chocolate sauce underneath.

Serve with cream or ice cream and berries. Some of the solid ingredients are measured by volume in millilitres, so use measuring spoons or a measuring jug for larger quantities.

Sponge batter:

60g butter

190ml sugar

1tsp vanilla essence

1 egg

190ml milk

250ml flour

1tbsp baking powder

half tsp salt

2 tbsp cocoa powder

Sauce:

375ml water

375ml brown sugar

3 tblsp cocoa powder

Vanilla ice cream and raspberries to serve

Method:

* Cream the butter and sugar together till fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract.

* Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder. Gradually beat into the creamed butter and sugar, alternating with the milk until all mixed in.

* Pour the batter into a greased oven dish.

* Combine all the sauce ingredients in a pot, stir over a low heat until dissolved then bring to the boil.

* Gently pour hot sauce over batter. It will separate and curdle (it’s supposed to).

* Bake at 200 C for 30 minutes until you have the sponge on top and the sauce underneath. Do not overbake as the sauce will dry up.

* Serve with vanilla ice cream and raspberries.

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