Heart-Healthy Hearts!

Valentine’s is a big chocolate holiday. The chocolate industry predicts that this week, 60 million pounds of chocolates will be purchased, and most of them will be snatched off the shelf on the day before Valentine’s Day.

Nothing like putting it off!

So this year, I am planning ahead, and making some super-simple chocolate for my sweetie. As long as I am at it, I’m going to sprinkle in some healthy stuff, that just happens to be delicious. Dark Chocolate, Cherries, and Almonds, a triple threat of superfoods, but once you take a bite, health will be the last thing on your mind.

By making my own, I can use organic, fair trade chocolate, free of GMOS and high-fructose corn syrup, which lurk in mainstream candy brands.

So I’ll fill you in now to get you motivated, and stave off any guilty you may have about eating treats!

Did you know that cherries are a bonanza of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals? Pick dried sour cherries to put in these chocolates, and you are staving off aches and pains that are definitely un-romantic. The complete package of super-nutrition in cherries improve heart health, fight gout, and speed up recovery from exercise. Buy extra and throw the leftovers in your salads, cereal, and muffins, and you can eat your medicine in the most delightful way.

Almonds are another superfood, packed with fiber, protein, good fats, potassium, folic acid, and Vitamin E. eating them on a regular basis contributes to healthy body weight, good blood pressure and heart health, and glowing skin. They are even a pre-biotic, that feed good bacteria in the gut. Don’t worry that nuts have fat. It’s worth it.

Oh, and if you haven’t already heard, dark chocolate is also a health food, full of antioxidants and pleasure-inducing chemicals. Go for higher cocoa content for maximum intensity.

As always, a combination of amazing real, whole foods is both swoon-inducing delicious, and darn good for you.

Good thing, because I want my sweetie around for a long time. This way, we can enjoy the ride!

Easy Valentine’s Day Clusters

I made these in a special pan with little heart-shaped cups, each of which holds about a tablespoon. If you don’t have such a pan, you can just drop these by the spoonful onto waxed paper, or into muffin cups. The cocoa serves two purposes, it helps release the candy from the pan, and it covers up that you didn’t temper the chocolate. If these even last long enough to care.

1 tablespoon cocoa

neutral oil, for pan

1/4 cup dried sour cherries (sweetened with apple juice)

a couple of tablespoons of brandy, optional

12 whole almonds

1 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Lightly oil the cups of your pan, or just spread some waxed paper on a sheet pan. Dust the cocoa powder on the oil or paper, using a fine sieve to spread it evenly over the oil. This will help you release the chocolates. Soak the cherries in brandy, if desired, then drain. Toast the nuts for about 15 minutes in a 325 degree oven, until quite toasted. Cool and chop very coarsely.

Low-Tech Candy Making

Drop a few cherries and chunks of nut into each cup, then melt the chocolate. Either use a double boiler, or microwave for two minutes and stir. Use a spoon to drop chocolate into each cup, and tap the pan on the counter to make the chocolate creep down into the crevices around the cherries and nuts. Chill the chocolates until firm.

Turn the pan over on your cutting board and tap it, hopefully the chocolates will fall out. If not, run some warm water in a sheet pan, and set the pan in the water for about 30 seconds, then dry it off. Return to your cutting board and use a paring knife to extract the chocolates. Serve fruit side up.