The theme for February in my book, “12 Happy Hours,” is all about chocolate. Dark, white and in between. Chocolate sweets, chocolate savories, and chocolate salty snacks. Ladies and gentlemen, mix up a chocolate cocktail and drizzle some bacon because the night is young.
Before we get to the recipes, let’s ponder a minute about how chocolate and February’s holiday for lovers struck up this perfect marriage. To do that, we need to recap the history of Valentine’s Day in all its hedonistic, and, later, holy glory.
The mid-February celebrations originate in early Rome, where revelers commemorated the empire’s founders, as well as the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus. This fertility festival included a sex lottery where men pulled names of mates out of a box. The randomly matched lovers often ended up marrying. Talk about fodder for reality TV.
Hoping to redirect the masses from their depraved carousing, the Catholic Church institutionalized February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day in the fifth century. The day commemorates an early Christian martyr named Valentine. Interestingly, three different martyred Valentines hold sainthood, but the Church didn’t spell out which one bears the honor of the February 14 feast day.
Not until the Middle Ages did the saintly feast day become paired with romance. At the time, people believed February 14 signaled the beginning of the mating season for birds. Riffing on that theme, important historical figures such as Chaucer, the Duke of Orleans, and even King Henry V began sending love notes or poems to their beloved mates.
Even before chocolate gained the reputation of a food with aphrodisiac qualities, the marketing genius of a chocolatier in England in the 1840s, kicked the sweets race off. Richard Cadbury had recently improved his company’s chocolate making technique to produce varieties of what was then called “eating chocolate.” He recognized a great marketing opportunity for the new chocolates and started selling them in beautifully decorated boxes that he designed; one supposedly was the heart-shaped box, which became an immediate hit on Valentine’s Day.
Is chocolate’s love-inspiring power myth or fact? Scientific research confirms that chocolate does contain some chemicals that contribute to feelings of joy or euphoria. For example, tryptophan in chocolate increases serotonin levels, which can produce feelings of elation. It also contains anadamide, which can also bring about blissful sensations.
Unfortunately, no one has been able to prove that the chemicals in chocolate are strong enough to produce a physiological, sexually stimulating response. Who cares! The stuff is good and if eating it makes me feel giddy and playful, then bring it on. These are only a few chocolate-inspired recipes from “12 Happy Hours.” Enjoy!
German Chocolate Cake Cocktail
Chocolate and coconut create a divine combination regardless of the form they take, but especially in a cocktail.
3/4 ounce coconut rum
3/4 ounce dark crème de cacao
1/4 ounce hazelnut liqueur
1 splash half-and-half
Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass rimmed with cocoa powder.
White Chocolate Raspberry Delight
1 ounce vodka
1 ounce white chocolate liqueur
1 ounce raspberry liqueur
1/2 ounce white cream de cacao
White chocolate shavings (for rim, optional)
Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass rimmed with white chocolate shavings. Garnish with fresh raspberry.
Chocolate Covered Bacon
1/2 lb. bacon, cut in thirds and fried crisp
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate
Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Drizzle onto bacon strips laid out on waxed paper. Let cool.
Chocolate Covered Popcorn
2 quarts popcorn (I use pre-made from local popcorn company)
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
Lay popcorn out in single layer on waxed paper. Melt chocolate in double boiler. Drizzle heavily over popcorn. Let set. Lay another layer of waxed paper on top of popcorn and flip over. Drizzle chocolate heavily over other side of popcorn. Let set. Break into chunks.