PUBLISHED: 5:32 PM on Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Dreaming of Chocolate: Valentine's Day is a good excuse to go all out
Rumors are that chocolate gives people the same feeling as being in love, an aphrodisiac to be exact.

I just love chocolate, and I can't get enough of it. I suppose I'm in love with chocolate! Milk chocolate, semi-sweet, bittersweet and even that non-chocolate stuff, white chocolate: it's all delicious.

Gourmands turn their noses up at milk chocolate. However, get your hands on European milk chocolate such as Swedish or Danish brands, and it's a beautiful experience.

The other night I was watching "Iron Chef America" Battle Chocolate and tuned into swanky Bobby Flay whipping up a chocolate pumpkin soup with pomegranate relish. Another chef was bathing seared tuna, bok choy and plums with a white chocolate foam.

I did attempt a chocolate-espresso mole sauce for a seared beef fillet, and have chewed on cocoa nibs straight out of the package. Chocolate in a savory light is quite fabulous, actually. It just takes a bit of time and thought.

Bittersweet chocolate in sauce forms pairs delightfully with rich bloody meats like beef, elk and venison, and fierce red wines.

But just give me a gooey chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven or a bowl of deep chocolate pudding graced with a dollop of cool vanilla ice cream, and I'm straight back to my childhood.

Eating chocolate from its naïve little wrapper takes resolve. Especially concerning good bittersweet chocolate that isn't as soft as milk chocolate. Don't gobble it down and chew it in one bite. Place the chocolate on your tongue and let it slowly melt in your mouth to fully enjoy the aroma and liquid cocoa taste (those chocolate commercials do have a point).

You'll notice that some chocolates taste fruity, others nutty and some even have a hint of honey flavor. Just like coffee beans, where the cocoa beans are grown, how they're roasted and processed all add to the unique taste.

The lighter or darker the chocolate is depends on the percentage of chocolate liquor the chocolate contains, which is the paste produced from ground cocoa nibs, extracted from roasted cocoa beans.

Cocoa liquor contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter. And, the higher the percentage ofchocolate means the greater the amount of chocolate liquor and the less amount of milk and sugar. Recommended brands for baking, cooking and chocolate work include Guittard, Ghirardelli, Schokinag or Callebaut. Nestle chocolate chips are great for your favorite cookie, but not ideal for melting or coating due to their high content of sugar and milk, which keeps their "chip" form stable, and easily burns or seizes.

During these cold Alaskan months, nothing is more satisfying and heart warming then a cup of decadent hot chocolate. If you haven't tried making it from scratch-it's a treat. To dress it up for adults, add a splash of brandy, Grand Marnier or amaretto, garnish with softly whipped cream and grated chocolate and you're in business.