Happy Valentine’s Day!

What comes to your mind when you think of Valentine’s Day? Does it include Chocolate and Champagne? Mine does! How about Antioxidants? See how antioxidant-packed dark chocolate is below-hint: it is higher than Broccoli, Blueberries and Greens!

My Valentine Sweetie and I will be enjoying Crab Cakes, a fennel salad(recipe in the next cookbook) sipping Champagne and indulging in Chocolate Cognac Truffles(mint or peanut-butter flavors) over candlelight. A romantic movie with the fire crackling and chocolate truffles melting in our mouths and Hot Chocolate to wash them down  is so heavenly. Yum!

Hey, Valentine’s is for Kid’s too! The perfect time to write your children a love letter! I have seen so many surveys that show what children want most from their parents is time, love and to hear how proud they are of them. Make a big deal of this holiday with your loved ones-it will create memories that will last in their hearts forever. Spend time together cooking, talking, laughing and hugging this special weekend…hey, maybe it will start a new tradition!

If you have children, make the Chocolate Fondue for them to eat-they love dipping the fruit, brownie bites and cake cubes into the warm, gooey Chocolate Ganache! Let them roll out the Shortbread dough and decorate with candies such as Gluten Free sprinkles and Sunspire Drops(similar to M&M’s). Health food stores have lots of healthy alternatives for decorating now! Yeah! Let them have cake and chocolate! They love the Hot Chocolate too! Another good project is to make Ice “Cream” with them and set up a Sundae station for them to make their own!  Of course, you can bake cupcakes ahead of time and make frosting for them and let them decorate them. Too Fun!

See Recipe of the Week and Menu of the Week pages for Crab Cake and Hot Chocolate recipes. If you have my cookbook, No Wheat No Dairy No Problem, the Chocolate Truffles or Double Chocolate Chip Cookies and Fudgey Brownies all make great gifts for your loved ones and Valentine. If you don’t have my cookbook, you can order it from this blog site and I will personally sign it for you and ship it to you.

· Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) measures total antioxidants. Chocolate has the highest ORAC levels per 100 grams (US Dept of Ag/American Chem Society).
Dark chocolate – 13,120
Milk chocolate – 6,740
Prunes: 5,770
Raisins: 2,830
Blueberries: 2,400
Blackberries: 2036
Kale: 1,770
Strawberries: 1540
Spinach: 1260
Broccoli: 894

Cheers with Love and Chocolate, Chef Lauren

Green Tea-packed with antioxidants!

I love green tea for its taste and health benefits, and look forward to the ritual of brewing and sipping a cuppa green tea every morning! It is my favorite was to begin my day. Last week I notice that I was nearly out of my favorite Green Tea by Mariage Freres! They are a wonderful tea company with beautiful shops, a tea drinkers heaven, in France and were founded in 1854. If you don’t happen to be going to France anytime soon, you can get it at Clementine’s Kitchen who will be happy to ship it to you.  www.clementineskitchen.com

465 Canyon Del Rey Blvd Del Rey Oaks, CA 93940-5705
(831) 392-1494

In the meantime, I really needed a day from out behind my computer and kitchen! So, I decided to galavant off to a local tea shop and had no idea the education and pampering I had in store! The very nice and knowledgable shop keeper invited me to sit at a table and she proceeded to teach me all about tea-from the leaves to the brewing and cultural influence-apparently, going out for tea in Asia is similar to going for cocktails or coffee in America; and most business is done over tea! I love the mental visual of Asian business men all sipping tea and negotiating!

For the next hour we had so much fun sipping several green teas and deciding which were my favorite-I liked the Green Oolong. I got to pull out the leaves and lay them flat on the wooden table–now that was so much fun-never aloud in my parent’s house!! That was worth the price of admission-which was free!

Prior to this little tea party, I thought I was so well versed in how to brew a proper cup of tea (cuppa as the English say), and I am half English! To my surprise, I was aware that I should rinse the leaves first. Ah, a new step to add to my morning ritual that will bring me back to the lovely memory created at this tea shop, Tea River located at 481 N. Santa Cruz Ave. Los Gatos, CA 95030 I encourage you to go and have your own memorable experience!

Health Benefits/Story of Tea

Green Tea contains more than 300 nutrients and antioxidants called polyphenols, which can help prevent cancer, control internal bleeding, keep the heart healthy, reduce cholesterol, regulate body temperature and body sugar, help digestion, improve urinary problems, brain function, heal wounds/skin damage, and much more! Incidentally, for all you coffee lovers who must have your cup of “Joe”, coffee has the opposite effect on the body of most of the health benefits of green tea. So, try integrating some green tea into your life. You won’t feel the jolt experienced with coffee, but you will feel vibrant and energized while being relaxed-what a concept.

Growing tea leaves is closely linked to Chinese and Japanese culture. It started in the past more than 4,800 years ago, and still continues on today. Green tea is a kind of unfermented tea, whereas Green Oolong tea is a semi-fermented tea known for its reach taste and lingering pleasant aftertaste. Green Oolong tea not only has the faint scent of Green Tea, but also has the full-bodied flavor of Black tea. Green Oolong tea combines the best qualities of green tea and black tea. Match is the green tea leaves that have been pulverized/ground into a powder.

All teas (green, black, and oolong) are derived from the same plant,Camelliasinensis. The difference is in how the plucked leaves are prepared. The leaves of the tea plant are used both as a social and medicinal beverage. Green tea,
unlike black and oolong tea, is not fermented, so the active constituents remain unaltered in the herb.

Regarding caffeine: The amount of caffeine (in combination with its
naturally occurring theanine) in green tea yields no more than would be considered a
mellow alertness (not like the coffee buzz and crash!).

Organic is often grown high in the mountains surrounded with fog, a source of humidity. This height and fresh, crisp air enables the tea leaves to grow and enjoy the favorable conditions of the mountain environment. Look for USDA and OCIA International certifications on organic tea.

Green Tea (powdered extract from leaf)
Concentration: 98% polyphenols, „75% Catechins, „45% EGCG
Polyphenols are protective phytonutrients of which Catechins are one
type. Epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG is one type of the numerous Catechins.
The function of these are:
EGCG (Polyphenol Catechin) is a powerful antioxidant and has been shown to
be significantly more potent than other standard antioxidants such as vitamins
C and E.

Helps promote antioxidant health by neutralizing the harmful effects of
oxidative stress caused by free radicals, encountered in the normal course of
metabolism and from the environment
Supports healthy cell & tissue growth
Protects cells and tissues from damage associated with aging
Supports healthy tissue growth and cardiovascular health by acting as an
antioxidant,
anti-mutagen, and anti-inflammatory

Brewing

Olong and Pu-erh need to be rinsed to wash off any dust etc..- Place the tea leaves into a pot with a strainer, pour boiling water over the leaves and drain, discard water. Follow the following times and tempuratures according to the type of tea. Use 1-2 Tablespoons of green tea to 16 ounces(2cups) of spring/filtered water. The longer the tea is brewed the stonger it gets, and if over brewed it will be bitter. Tea leaves may be used multiple times,  just add 30 seconds more for each time you use them.

Japanese Green 170 degrees, steep 1-3 minutes

Chinese Green 160-190 degrees, steep 1-3 minutes

Oolong 205-212 degrees, steep 2-3 minutes

Pu-erh 212 degrees, steep 2-5 minutes

White 195 degrees, steep 2-3 minutes

Black 212 degrees, steep 2-4 minutes

Herbals and Rooiboos are not tea leaves, rather tesans, 212 degrees, steep 3-5 minutes

Heat water to proper temperature(very important). Pour over leaves. Do not add leaves to the top of the water because the leaves will not fully open. Steep according to times above and your own taste. Strain, save leaves for another cup! Sip, relax and ENJOY! Go out and try an array of green tea and find your own favorites. I love green tea infused with fruit, citrus and flowers too! Cheers!:)

Be Well, Lauren

Chocolate-Heavenly and Healthy!

cocoa pods

Dcocoa pods

Just one bite of luscious dark chocolate can melt away any worries and send you to pure ecstasy-even if it’s for a moment! What’s not to like about that? And if that isn’t enough, it is beneficial to our health!

Chocolate Facts

Chocolate is the most craved food in the United States. Americans consume about 11.7 lbs of chocolate per person annually. Swiss citizens consume the most – 22.4 lbs per person per year.

90% of the world’s cacao is grown by 5-6 million family farmers.

Worldwide production amounts to about 3 million tons. Organic cacao accounts for only a fraction of this. Purchasing organic chocolate will increase this important frontier of sustainability.

Cacao grows within 20 degrees of the equator, and does best when nurtured under the natural canopy of the rainforest. Africa produces 70% of the world’s crop, followed by Latin America and Southeast Asia.

There are three main varieties of cacao
Criollo – Highly prized & rare, thin light colored pods, wonderful aromas.
Forastero – More plentiful, thick pods, pungent flavor.
Trinitario – A cross of Criollo and Forestero, diverse range of characteristics, Good, aromatic flavor and easily grown.

Cacao pods grow out of the cacao tree’s stem and branches, from fragile flowers pollinated by rainforest insects. Cacao pods hold about 50 beans (really seeds). Around 200 beans make 1 pound of chocolate.

There are two main harvests per year, though some amount of cacao can be harvested year round.

Once harvested, the cacao bean and pulp are scooped from the pod and allowed to ferment for about 3-5 days. After this, the beans are dried, roasted, deshelled (winnowing) and ground into a fine paste called chocolate liquor. This is mixed with sweeteners and sometimes milk or other ingredients to make finished products. Click to learn more about types of chocolate, such as milk, dark and white.

Pests and disease destroy about 25% of the world’s cacao each year. Organic methods successfully combat these.

Chocolate and Your Health*

A recent study found that natural cacao powder – which we use in our products – has more antioxidants than alkalized or Dutched varieties.

Some cacao powder is processed with alkali to cut acidity and darken the color. This is called alkalized or Dutch process. We use only high-grade beans with exceptional full flavor, so we do not need to do this. Our cacao powder is “natural”/ non-Alkalized/Non-dutched. We also use natural process cacao in our hot chocolates, coffee beans and our bars. A recent study found that natural process cacao has higher antioxidant levels than alkalized/Dutched cacao. When baking, if you are using a recipe that calls for Dutch process cocoa powder, add 1/8 teaspoon baking soda for every 3 Tablespoons of Dagoba (natural) cacao powder.

· Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) measures total antioxidants. Chocolate has the highest ORAC levels per 100 grams (US Dept of Ag/American Chem Society).
Dark chocolate – 13,120
Milk chocolate – 6,740
Prunes: 5,770
Raisins: 2,830
Blueberries: 2,400
Blackberries: 2036
Kale: 1,770
Strawberries: 1540
Spinach: 1260
Broccoli: 894

· Antioxidant flavanols may help repair damage to smokers’ blood vessels, at least temporarily, according to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

·Cacao has been associated with decreased diabetes & blood pressure (American Heart Association)

· Cacao is rich in B1, B2 and D vitamins, and magnesium and iron.

· Cacao is associated with improved vasodilation, helping increase stamina during exercise. (Athens Medical School)

· Cacao is cholesterol free. Its phenolic properties may also block oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

· Chocolate is associated with euphoria and reduced depression – due to phenylthylamine.

· Serotonin, a well-studied neurotransmitter, is thought to instill calm and relaxed feelings. Chocolate is associated with increased serotonin levels, a factor that is believed to explain chocolate cravings.

· Some researchers believe that serotonin is related to premenstrual syndrome (PMS), explaining premenstrual chocolate cravings.

· Stearic acid, chocolate’s predominant saturated fat, has neutral effects on blood cholesterol.

· The European Board of Health lists chocolate as a pre-digestive aid.

What about caffeine?
· Rest easy – 1.4 oz of chocolate has only as much caffeine as a cup of decaf coffee.

What about allergies?
Jeremy Drelich, MD assessed a group of 20 individuals who reported allergic reactions after chocolate consumption. After a week without eating chocolate each individual received skin prick and blood tests for allergies to chocolate and component ingredients (milk, soy,almonds, peanuts, vanilla), and consumed unlabeled cacao and non-cacao samples. Sugar allergies were assessed by giving half the participants unsweetened chocolate and half chocolate made with cane juice. None showed definite evidence of a chocolate allergy, though some tested positive for non-cacao ingredients. By choosing organic products made without additives or fillers – such as organic dark chocolate made without refined sugar – you’ll may find yourself happily reunited with chocolate.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.

Chocolate Resources

Dagobachocolate.com is gluten free, dairy free and refined sugar free, soy free, vegan, organic and kosher!  Other sources include: www.enjoylifefoods.com and www.sunspire.com chocolate/chocolate chips are also diary free, gluten free, soy free, allergen free, grain sweetened and organic.

Information taken from www.dagobachocolate.com