Friday, April 30, 2010

Mountain Health Nut Croissants With Dark Chocolate

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

I just baked a sweet and savory honey custard... It's a creamy, warming comfort food with a wholesome twist on this cool, spring day. I used brown eggs, organic 2% low-fat milk, pumpkin honey, vanilla, and nutmeg. Flipping through the recipes in The Healing Powers of Chocolate book (as I watch Food Network and am on call as a phone psychic) my eyes are drawn to "Ciabatta Bread Slices, with Dark Chocolate and Olive Oil"--created by Italian cook-author Gemma Sanita Sciabica. This easy and quick recipe is a must-try...

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Ciabatta Bread Slices, with Dark Chocolate and Olive Oil

6 slices bread (1/2-inch thick), toasted
1/3 cup ricotta
6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped small
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped small or ground
Sea salt to taste

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Foil-line a baking sheet, lightly grease it. Place bread in single layer on sheet, spread with 1 tablespoon ricotta. Scatter chocolate evenly over ricotta. Bake about 5 minutes or until melted. Sprinkle with walnuts, salt it, and drizzle with olive oil. Serves 6.

Variation: Croissants or bread slices, whole grain preferrably, of your choice.
This weeked I am on the beat to write up the Earth Changes column for Oracle 20/20 magazine (page 32) and work on the new Healing Powers series superfood book. At least I got my swim/hot tub in before the weekend tourists come to town. So the next few days promise easy work that can be enjoyed more with one of these chocolate treats. Sliced, fresh strawberries will make it even healthier and tastier, too.
FYI: I'm not depressed, so the Californian researchers who conducted their "sticky" chocolate-depression study can give it a rest or take a 101 Dark Chocolate Course to discover the health virtues of this "food of the gods". Or, perhaps, if they turn to fine dark chocolate themselves (an ounce of 70% cocoa content) a couple of times per week, good for you nuts and extra virgin olive oil (in moderation, of course, as the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet pyramid shows) they'd find a better and more meaningful study to conduct. Or not.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy Chocolate Debunks Chocolate Blues Study

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet
"I strongly doubt that chocolate includes depression or interferes with recovery from depression...If either idea were true, this would long ago have become obvious given the ubiquitous use of the substance over the last 500 years."
-- Dr. Lorrin Koran, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral science, at Standford University School of Medicine

Today a new study is being circulated on the Internet. OMG! Chocolate is linked to depression? No way. The research is sketchy, at best. The researchers at the University of California report depressed people eat more chocolate. What's more, reporters--the bittersweet study is being picked up by major newspapers from coast to coast--are claiming that the authors aren't quite sure how the two are connected. Huh? Yet, one expert doubts that chocolate makes people depressed. Ditto. These anti-chocolate Golden State researchers need to pick up a copy of my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate...
Here, take a peek at just a few of these feel-good compounds that work wonders if you're feeling good or not:

* Amandamide: Touted as the "bliss chemical," it occurs naturally in the brain and when released to our brain receptors can provide good feelings.

* Endorphins: Dark chocolate, like exercise, helps release endorphins, natural painkillers in your body that act on the nervous system to alleviate pain.

* PEA: Another brain chemical known as the "chocolate amphetamine," can increase blood pressure and feelings of excitedment and alertness. It also has been called the "love drug" because it can mimic feelings of falling in love.

* Serotonin: This is another brain chemical that can make you feel happier. It is a compound in chocolate that can provide a calming effect.

* Tryptophan: This essential amino acid may react like mood-boosting, calming serotonin, helping to alleviate feelings of anxiety and stress.

The bottom line: It's these feel-good compounds (and minerals, vitamins, and good for you disease-fighting antioxidants) in chocolate, including Hershey's dark chocolate (with its antioxidant seal) that I consume in moderation that make my day. Depressed? Nope. Do I overindulge in chocolate? Nope. I don't get this study. My vote is for a redo. In other words, it should be back to the drawing board because this research doesn't stack up to the known mood-enhancing compounds and its feel-good effects that have been proven to work in chocolate.
One more thing. When I was treated to a four star hotel chocolate bubble bath paired with two homemade dark chocolate truffles, was I depressed? Uh, no! Did I crave more chocolate after savoring the two chocolates? No way. I was in Chocolate Heaven. My sweet cravings were totally satisfied with the good stuff--no desire to eat sweet junk food.
P.S. Today, before I swam I ate one Lindt chocolate truffle (60% cocoa content). Later, after I walked the pooches and before the radio show which I touted chocolate's feel-food powers, I ate another truffle. Calories: about 150. Was I depressed? I don't think so. But this study on chocolate linked to depression is depressing me. It's time for a piece of chocolate! Oops. Does that mean this one study rings true?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Little Java & Chocolate For Burning Fat

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

In my latest book The Healing Powers of Chocolate, I tout both coffee and chocolate. These days, I turn to these superfoods to help me stay lean and fit. I'm not talking about drinking coffee all day or eating a huge chocolate cake. But a cup of Joe and piece of fine dark chocolate may be the key to help you lose unwanted pounds and/or body fat--just in the nick of time this spring before summer when we all bare more skin...
The fact is, researchers have discovered that drinking coffee will increase your calorie-burning power for at least three hours afterward. The effect may be due to the caffeine.
For a double effect, try pairing a piece of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate with 70 percent cocoa content (it doesn't contain a lot of caffeine or sugar and can cut cravings for empty calorie sweet foods packed with added sugar, which may be linked to heart disease risk, according to new research) and a cup of quality coffee. Or, sip a coffee mocha or latte. (More coffee types are included in my book.) One of my favorite companies with a wide selection of coffees is Caffe D' Amore--including coffee such as Bellagio, cocoa, and tea--and yes, during my research I was in coffee and chocolate utopia. But note, coffee isn't for everyone. Again, the key is moderation.
And yes, I can tell you that this formula will give you the drive to get a move on and get involved in fat-burning activity, including walking the dogs, swimming, and spring cleaning. I'm not talking about vigorous high-intensity aerobic exercise, but keep moving by doing things, so you are are able to stay active for a longer period of time.
Now that it's officially off season at Lake Tahoe, that means longer swims, longer walks, and more physical activity for me as the weather warms up (or after this batch of snow it should). A toast to java and chocolate for getting and staying in shape year-round!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Dark Chocolate Incident: Sequel

The Writing Gourmet

During the field research of my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate, a mishap with chocolate and my two Brittanys spooked me--and my two fur children. The fact is, chocolate and dogs don't mix and I couldn't believe that me--the chocolate expert fell victim to dealing with the dramatic ordeal. This story made the cover of the former PetFolio magazine. In a cocoa bean shell, my pooches scarfed down quality dark chocolate. Of course, it happened on a Sunday and a desperate call to pet E.R. in Reno helped us to deal with the doggie drama. We all survived (the carpet did not)...
Today, another chocolate-related untimely mishap occurred. During an interview for the chocolate book, I let my sibling take the boys back to the back house so there wouldn't be any pesky interruptions. Then, before I knew it I heard the words bellow: "Cal! The dogs got out!" The words hit me hard. Both my fur kids (raised since pups at 6 weeks old) were on the lam.
Keep in mind, my boys are the kind of companion animals that have gone on Barnes and Noble book tours with me. These fur kids have spent the night in people-friendly hotels. They're pampered pups. Read: These purebred dogs get their nails trimmed and teeth scaled (a preventive measure for good health). My Brittanys have never had a free run in the sierra because of the danger of coyotes, mountain lions, and lots of mean streets and mean dogs. And gosh, Seth, my three year old has never growled a day in his dog life. He works out on the treadmill and loves two-leggers and four-leggers. He's a lover, not a fighter. Both Seth and Simon, six, are 39 pounds each. No contest for a dog fight with a street savvy Tahoe big dog.
So, instead of going into drama queen mode I shouted to my sibling: "Get the car! Get the leashes! Get the food"! I took off on foot. My thoughts were racing. Alas, around the corner I couldn't believe what I saw. My two boys, side by side--best buddies--looking at me. We reunited and I snagged each by their collars and we walked side by side back to the house.
What's spooky though, thirty minutes later I saw one, large coyote scurry down our street. Less than an hour after, an off-leash Pit Bull was making its rounds. My two bird dogs were all safe indoors and I vowed they'd get a well-earned safe, scenic walk taking the long way home.
Then, at last--the chocolate interview took place as planned. I dished out my hands-on knowledge about the "food of the gods"--and I felt cool, calm, and collected because I was whooped by the possibility of what could have happened to my best friends but didn't. And now, I sit here content with my two beloved canines. They're whooped, too. I'm sensing it's time for a cup of heart-healthy hot chocolate and a gourmet dark chocolate truffle or two (the compound theobromine in dark chocolate is relaxing for humans--not so much for canines) to celebrate good chocolate and good dogs.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Healing Powers of Sea Salt Chocolate Caramels

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

I'm confused! It's edging near mid April and snow flurries are ba-a-ck--our Winter Weather Advisory is all on NOAA. One hour I'm swimming and spring cleaning both indoors and outdoors. The next hour I'm making a fire and baking coffee cake. So like is it spring or winter? At Lake Tahoe this year it's spring-wintertime. No worries. I'll go with the flow and reap the rewards of getting two seasons in one--and turn to sweet chocolate power...
Yes, I'm craving to die for dark chocolate and its healing powers: boosts brainpower to physical energy and so much more. Sure, in the house I've got a stash of unsweetened cocoa powder, semi sweet dark chocolate chocolate bars, chocolate chips, and dark chocolate ice cream. But it's not the same as the sea salt salt caramels covered in heavenly dark chocolate.
I was introduced to these unforgettable gems during my research of The Healing Powers of Chocolate. Now, I've tasted these chocolatey caramels created by many luxury chocolatiers, coming from the West Coast to Midwest. It's the East Coast that had me with the first bite to the last. Those homemade, all-natural Lake Champlain Chocolates' Sea Salt Caramels won my sophisticated chocolate palate. And now I can't get them out of my head.
In fact, after the chocolate book was released the popular chocolate company based in Vermont sent me these sea salt caramels. It was a thank you gift. And a gift indeed. The vanilla caramel is cooked in copper kettles, hand cut, and covered in dark chocolate. Sprinkled with sea salt. The result: You get to savor a salty-sweet combo taste--and end up craving them again and again.
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A few months ago, I tried my hand at making these superb gourmet sea salt delights. I purchased a bag of storebought caramels. I splurged on the pricey 70% cocoa content chocolate chips. I melted the chocolate, and poured the creamy goo over the unwrapped caramels. Lastly, I put a dash of Mediterranean sea salt on each one. I popped 'em into the fridge. Thirty minutes later. They were doable, sort of, but not my fantasy sea salt caramels with sweet chocolate power.
So here I sit craving the real deal: Lake Champlain's Sea Salt Caramels. I'm looking outside at gray skies, white powder falling down. Perhaps a cup of hot chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream drizzled with caramel sauce and sprinkled with sea salt and/or organic raw sugar may or may not suffice. It may provide that healing lift. I guess it will be like the Rolling Stones' lyrics you can't always get what you want but you get what you need.

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's Strawberry Scones Time!

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Once spring hit I thought that my baking days were over. Not so. The best part is that by living in the sierra we have a mix of winter and spring so whipping up my fave goodies, like scones, isn't unthinkable. Fresh fruit scones are perfect for the combination of warm and cold temps...
Today, strawberries were on sale and I couldn't resist buying a few containers of this sweet and juicy fruit. Then, I began brainstorming: strawberry pie like my mom used to bake; strawberry shortcake because I love it; strawberry-fruit salad because I was thinking of the fruit salad Maggie (Meg Ryan) made at a Lake Tahoe mountain cabin in one of my must-see 100 times films City of Angels...And finally, it came to me. Strawberry scones works at Lake Tahoe this time of year. Not too heavy and not too light. And that is exactly what I'm going to bake this weekend. Here's an easy failproof recipe that I have used before (but with different fruits).

Strawberry Springtime Scones

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3 1/2 cups 100% natural whole wheat flour
1/2 cup granualted sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup European Style butter, unsalted
1 cup low fat, all natural vanilla yogurt
3/4 cup low fat buttermilk
1 brown egg
1 tablespoon allspice
1 tablespoon fresh orange or lemon rind
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
a dash of Mediterranean Sea Salt
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped
Sliced almonds (optional)
Whipped cream cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add chunks of butter (sliced in small squares). In another bowl combine yogurt, milk, and egg and stir until a dough-like mixture forms. I use my hands. Fold in strawberries, chips and citrus rind. Drop large sponfuls onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle with organic raw sugar and almonds. Bake until brown and crusty, about 12 to 14 minutes. Serve sliced and spread with whipped cream cheese and fresh strawberries.

I've been to Scone Land and I love all scones: pumpkin, cranberry, apple, ginger, and I'm sure these strawberry ones will be tasty in their own spring way--not as warming as pumpkin and ginger. Paired with a cup of fresh coffee or herbal tea will make these scones a yummy fit for one or company. Speaking of people...Next week I'm expecting visitors. This may be the ideal treat to serve.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sierra Cornbread Muffin Magic

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Snow flurries, howling wind, lake advisory...these are the things that mountain folks are dealing with today at Lake Tahoe. Earlier today I did manage to get in a swim (challenging with young kids playing Marco Polo and doing cannonballs near my head). But hey, the heavenly hot tub was a solo thing and no games or noise. The dogs? No great walk today. After bringing in firewood and shoveling the snow off the deck I was whooped. Shh. I don't think they know the difference. Let the sleeping Brittanys lie. It's time to get cozy, snuggle, watch movies, and eat comforting, warm, wintertime foods...
In the beginning of the week I made cornbread muffins. This time around, I did it from scratch. It's really easy to do and the taste is worth it--better than store bought mixes and I control the ingredients. I froze a batch and am glad I did. Imagine: Taking a homemade muffin out of the freezer when the craving hits. Just pop it in the microwave and ah, cornbread muffin magic. It's warm, semi-sweet, and the texture is like a good muffin should be--moist and fresh.

Sierra Cornbread Muffins

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1 1/4 cups all natural whole wheat flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup 2% low fat organic milk
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 brown eggs
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir till mixed. Add the rest of ingredients. Pour batter into paper lined muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes till golden brown. Cool. Makes about 12 medium muffins. Freeze 'em.

So here I sit on a Friday night. As the author-intuitive, I'm working my psychic job and reading books linked to my new book project. In between these tasks I stoke the fire, pet the pooches and kitty. I just enjoyed a muffin--they are super plain--with a cup of hot chamomile tea. It gets better.
Yesterday, I received a gift of chocolates from Lake Champlain Chocolates (it's a special chocolate item tied to my new book research--a surprise). I've revisited Chocolate Heaven (again). And today, another surprise package arrived full of the awesome super food--like chocolate, vinegar, and olive oil--that I'm writing about.
Uh oh. A strong vibe is coming into my space. The energy is positive though. No need for astrology or tarot cards on this read. It's crystal clear. I'm picking up that I'm embracing my pre-golden spinsterhood years. Such is life in the sierras in early springtime. It's magical.