By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2001
deconstructing: explanations from the inside out
The chocolate we eat and bake with is made by adding ingredients such as sugar or milk to "chocolate liquor," the product of processed cocoa beans. The beans, cultivated around the world in regions along the equator, are fermented, roasted, shelled and crushed into small bits called "nibs." The nibs, which are more than 50 percent cocoa butter -- the fat of chocolate -- are ground and compressed into a non-alcoholic liquid called chocolate liquor. Here are explanations of some common forms of chocolate:
COCOA POWDER: Finely ground cocoa nibs. Used in baking, and not to be mistaken for hot cocoa mixes, which are sweetened. Example: Hershey's Cocoa Powder.
UNSWEETENED: Also called baking, plain or bitter chocolate, this is refined chocolate liquor that has not been sweetened. It is for baking or cooking, not for eating out of hand. Example: Ghirardelli Unsweetened Chocolate Baking Bars.
MILK: This chocolate contains milk solids and sugar. Most often eaten in candy bars. Do not substitute for bittersweet or semisweet, except in chips for cookies. Example: Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
DARK: Sweetened chocolate that does not contain milk solids. Example: Godiva Dark Chocolate Cream Heart.
BITTERSWEET: Made from chocolate liquor sweetened with sugar and blended with additional cocoa butter. Mostly used in baking, though some chocolate lovers eat it from the container. Example: Lindt Swiss Bittersweet Chocolate Bar.
SEMISWEET: A dark variety that is at least 35 percent chocolate liquor, with sugar making up another 40 percent. Example: Nestle's Semisweet Chocolate Chips.
WHITE: Cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids blended with no chocolate liquor. Example: White Chocolate Toblerone.
Source: Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion (Time-Life Books, 2000)
Looking for a way to impress your sweetie on Valentine's Day? This site offers oodles and oodles of ideas, from sexy ways to eat chocolate to how to pick a restaurant for a cozy rendezvous. Recipes for romantic dishes include one for fortune cookies in which you personalize the fortunes for the one you love.
Wondering what foods have the power to turn on the love lights? According to Lovingyou.com, clams, oysters and other seafood make for a romantic dinner. And fruits such as strawberries, bananas, apricots, peaches and pears are sensuously sweet.
"The night they invented Champagne, it's plain as it can be, they thought of you and me." Songwriter Alan Jay Lerner in Gigi.
Planning a luscious lobster dinner for two? Don't throw away the shells, use them to flavor butter. Here's how, according to Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion (Time-Life Books, 2000): "Crush the shells and heat gently with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of butter for 15 minutes. Ladle through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing to extract as much flavor as possible. Add small amounts of the intensely flavored butter to sauces, spread on sandwiches or use to top fish. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a month or freeze for up to a year."
NECCO's new line of conversational mints promises to make your kisses even sweeter with "high intensity" peppermint flavor. You better hope, though, that your valentine doesn't get the wrong idea when you hand her a bag of breath mints. (By the way, NECCO stands for New England Confectionary Co., with headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.)
Want to say "I love you" in another language? Consider these sweet translations for your one and only: French: Je t'aime; Spanish: Te amo; German: Ich liebe dich; Italian: Ti amo; Hebrew: Ani Ohev Otakh; Russian: Ya tyebya lyublyu; Chinese: Wo ai ni; Swedish: Jag alskar dig; Greek: S'agapo; Persian: Du stet daram; Polish: Kocham cie; Tagalog: Mahal kita and Hawaiian: Aloha wau ia oe.
Plant City strawberries are in full flavor and just in time for Valentine's Day. The sensuous berries -- you'll find some of the best at produce stands -- can be served several ways to fan the flames of love. Dip them in melted chocolate, drop one or two in a flute of Champagne or cut them in half to make heart shapes. Feed strawberries and whipped cream to each other . . . now that's amore.
Valentine's Day isn't just for lovers; it is also for little kids and their serious sweet tooths. The Popcorn Factory catalog has some good gifts for children. Chocolate crocodiles and gorillas, adorned with hearts and eaten from a stick, are good bets, as are heart-decorated tins of popcorn. Our favorites are dinosaur cookie cutters filled with chocolate (T-Rex, pterodactyl and stegosaurus for $19.95) and a box of 16 sugar cookies decorated like lady bugs ($14.95). Call (800) 541-2676 to order or check them out online at http://www.thepopcornfactory.com.