Love Fed in the Garden: Chocolate Workshop
Just before Valentine's Day I was invited to a chocolate making workshop in my friend Christina's garden at her home in Venice, California. I know Christina through my sweetheart Eddie, who met her the first year of The Taste. He went to judge and audition the contestants for the show, and there he met the adorable Christina Ross. Her blog, Love Fed, is a fresh look into the raw vegan lifestyle, with recipes and creative ideas for radiant plant-based living.
Christina is the creator and owner of PatisseRaw, a raw vegan confections company she and her husband, Parisian artist Alex Andre, began as a hand-crafted sweets and desserts business. They wanted to make deliciously decadent sweets with wholesome raw vegan ingredients. PatisseRaw sells to most health food stores and Whole Foods Market locations in and around Los Angeles. Each delectable bite is made in her vegan kitchen and combines plant-based foods in a new and refreshing way.
By the way, Christina is just as sparkly in person as she seems, and I love that she spells her name "Xtina" on her label. Since it was a chocolate making workshop, Xtina had labels for everyone to wear and provided colorful Sharpies for artistic flair. I really wish she could be my personal fairy princess assistant to wave her chocolate making spoon-wand around my kitchen and just like that, poof! Everything is magically delicious. Because Christina is magical. And that's what making chocolate is all about. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory kind of magic.
I invited my dear friend Elyn along because I know how much she loves anything chocolate, especially raw and vegan chocolate. It's good-for-you chocolate, which is the easiest excuse to make when indulging in it. My three children also enjoyed the afternoon in the garden, playing with hula hoops, relaxing on the lounge under the trees, and getting their hands sticky with all kinds of delicious things like cacao powder, coconut butter, and nougat made of blended dates and butterscotch extract. Other children were at the workshop with their parents, and soon the garden filled with friends, children, and chocolate.
Christina is goddess of chocolate in her gossamer blouse, eight months pregnant and radiant with her first child. She glows with a beautiful smile while stirring a bowl of melted cocoa butter, coconut oil, vanilla and raw cacao powder, as though she stepped right out of a Botticelli painting and into her garden.
My heart and flower shaped chocolate molds were full of chocolate love. We sprinkled in sea salts mixed with edible flowers, freshly picked chocolate mint from the garden, goji berries, almonds, pecans, mulberries and cacao nibs. My two daughters were busy making their arranged chocolate pours into their own molds while I snapped many photos of the moment. My son was hungry for pizza, as teenagers tend to be, and soaked in some rays of sunshine on the lounge near our work tables covered with ingredients. I offered him chocolate, goji berries and almonds. Not exactly pizza, but he was patient and rewarded, as we went for what he was craving after the workshop.
There in this whimsical garden, making love with chocolate. Valentine's Day chocolates for love food. Chocolate is a known aphrodisiac, and being a chocoholic myself I cannot resist the temptation. The Aztecs referred to chocolate as “Food of the Gods”. Chocolate contains the organic compound phenylethylamine, the "love chemical" in our bodies that releases pleasure-inducing endorphins like a good orgasm. It also contains the feel-good hormone serotonin and caffeine. It also has more antioxidants than red wine. To really inspire your passion, you can have chocolate and red wine together. Little nibbles of dark raw vegan chocolate paired with a fruity red is lovely. If you are curious to know more about the magical ways of chocolate, become your own chocolate god or goddess and create them using raw vegan ingredients. I'm sure, like the history of lovers that used chocolate before their romantic interludes, chocolate is the quintessential aphrodisiac. Adding your own touch makes it much more romantic than store-bought truffles when you give handmade chocolates to your lover. For a sweet activity with your children, make chocolates together. Human bonds are made more loving with the magic of chocolate, and we can all be love fed with organic, raw and vegan sweets.
My favorite recipe was the simplest mixture of dates and butterscotch and vanilla extract to make a nougat filling for the raw vegan "Snickers" bar recipe. I thought this was such a brilliant way to have something healthy and yet surprisingly decadent. It brought me back to childhood as my walk home from school sometimes had a visit to the store for a candy bar. Either a Snickers or a Crunch bar was my occasional after school indulgence before walking uphill with a heavy backpack full of books. If only those chocolate bars tasted like this, full of nourishing ingredients and love.
Recipes by Christina Ross of PatisseRaw
Makes approx 1½ cups
Prep time: 15 minutes; total time: 30 minutes
This recipe will make a chocolate bar that you can grate or shave to garnish desserts. The chocolate can also be poured into molds (while still liquid) to create fun candies and molded garnishes for your creations.
1 cup cacao butter
1 cup cacao powder
1/3 cup agave nectar or any liquid sweetener that you prefer
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Line a loaf pan or glass bowl with parchment paper or plastic wrap, allowing the paper or wrap to hang over the sides.
Place the cacao butter in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl and melt over boiling water.
Transfer melted cacao to a medium bowl and stir in remaining ingredients until smooth.
Pour mixture into lined pan and place in freezer until firm, about 15 minutes.
FRESH MINT CHOCOLATE HEARTS
Makes 48 small hearts
Prep Time: 20 minutes; total time: 30 minutes
I use heart-shaped molds to make these delectable candies. Molds can be purchased form a candy supply store, cookware store, or online. I use mini hearts—perfect for portion control—however larger molds will do just as well. You’ll just end up with fewer hearts. If you don’t have molds, see the instructions for using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, below.
1 cup melted cacao butter
1 cup cacao powder
¼ cup agave nectar
1 ¼ teaspoon mint extract
¾ cup fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Place all ingredients (except mint leaves) in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour into heart molds or cookie cutters* (see alternative instructions below). Garnish each chocolate heart by pressing a mint leave into the top. Place in freezer until set, approximately 20 minutes. Flip mold over onto a clean surface and remove chocolate hearts. Arrange on a plate and serve or store in the freezer.
*If you don’t have heart molds, use a small heart cookie cutter. Instead of pouring the chocolate into the molds, line a shallow 11 x 8 rectangular dish with parchment paper. Pour the chocolate into the dish and place in the refrigerator until slightly firm but still soft enough that pressing a cookie cutter into the chocolate leaves an impression. Using the cookie cutter, stamp 48 hearts. Continue as directed.
Makes 12 bars
Prep Time: 20 minutes; total time: 40 minutes
If you’re a fan of chewy, nutty, chocolaty candy (and who isn’t?), you’ll go for this variation on the Snickers bar. You can use any date you like to make these bars; just bear in mind that the softer the date the easier to break down, and that honey and khadrawi dates, in particular, have a very caramel-like flavor.
1 cup melted cacao butter (see page 00)
2 cups cacao powder
½ cup coconut nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean powder or vanilla extract
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil (see page 00)
15 pitted dates
1 teaspoon butterscotch extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons filtered water
¼ cup almonds or jungle peanuts
Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper.
To make the chocolate: Place all the chocolate ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a spoon until smooth with no clumps. Pour half of the chocolate into the parchment-lined baking pan, creating a layer no thicker than 1/4". Set pan in freezer and begin making the caramel.
To make the caramel nougat: Using a mortar and pestle, food processor or blender, combine all the caramel ingredients until a paste forms.
To assemble: Remove pan from freezer and spread caramel nougat over hard chocolate layer. Sprinkle almonds or peanuts on top of the caramel and pour remaining chocolate over the top until mold is completely filled. Freeze for 15 minutes or until completely hardened.
Remove chocolates from molds and serve. Store leftovers in the freezer.