Sarah McClellan-Brandt: Chocolate isn’t just for candy anymore

🕐 6 min read

Do you remember the first time an adult gave you something made of chocolate that wasn’t meant for kids? I do — it was a Milano cookie, the kind with the dark chocolate center in between the crunchy oval wafers. These were my mom’s fancy cookies that were meant for company and were kept in a high cabinet away from her four scavenger children. Occasionally she would let me have one when I had a tea party with my dolls (raspberry Celestial Seasonings, which I still keep on hand). Milano cookies were the stuff dreams were made of… dreams and church gymnasium wedding receptions, if you were a big spender.

These days Milanos may not be considered so fancy, but that dark chocolate crispiness that melts just right in a cup of coffee is still a special treat. Truffles, chocolate hearts, all of the chocolate candy that make up Valentine’s grocery store end caps — those are all rare treats just like the Milanos of my youth. But cocoa — not candy — is a staple.

For example, a great mole sauce on enchiladas. Some people like green sauce, some people like red sauce, but then there is the third category of enchilada eaters who just must have mole sauce. Mole is a cocoa-infused sauce that has numerous recipes but regardless of the mixture, the flavors are layered and many. At least two different kinds of chilis, some kind of fruit, broth, tomatoes, herbs, cocoa and spices…the combinations are endless. But the common denominator is, of course, chocolate. Los Asaderos on North Main has a mole-smothered chicken leg that is worth the trip. Another local favorite, Enchiladas Ole, has “Holy Mole” chicken enchiladas on its menu. I’ve never made the sauce myself, but it’s on the list of things I plan to learn.

Another great use of cocoa is in a pot of chili. That’s right, chili like the kind you bring to a cook-off. The one I make uses plain cocoa powder added to the onions, garlic and beef while sautéing them with the chili powder, cumin and pimenton or smoked paprika. Cooking it for a few minutes pulls the chocolate flavor into the meat and onions and blends it with the other spices, making the end result deeper and richer. Add a little red wine to de-glaze the pan for some added oomph. (If you are someone who claims chili is not chili if it has beans, then you are eating spiced spaghetti sauce and you might as well stop reading.)  Here’s the recipe: 

Easy chili with cocoa

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Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp avocado oil
  • 1 large onion, white or yellow – diced
  • 1 lb grass fed ground beef
  • 2-3 tbsp chili powder, adjust to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp cocoa powder, adjust to taste
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 large can of stewed tomatoes
  • 15 oz can of black beans or white/Cannellini beans
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • handful cilantro for garnish
  • handful white cheddar or goat cheese for serving on top
  • 1/4 cup red wine for deglazing the pan

Instructions

  • Heat the oil in a large pan or dutch oven. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about two to three minutes. Add the beef and chop it down to small chunks. Add the spices, and cocoa and stir for three to four minutes, chopping the meat to small chunks all the while. Deglaze the pan with about 1/4 cup or less of red wine, if needed. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s absorbed. Add the tomatoes and beans and let simmer about 10 minutes on medium. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Add the brown sugar. Cover the pot and simmer on low for at least 30 minutes and up to two hours. Serve in bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro and cheese of your choice. I also like to add a little bit of chopped red onion.

If you really prefer your chocolate in a dessert and you like to bake, go for something different with fellow D/FW food blogger Elizabeth Jordan-Flight of Jam Jar Kitchen’s Mexican Hot Chocolate cookies. These are kind of like if a snicker doodle, a chocolate chip cookie, s’mores and hot cocoa all smushed together. She combined a sugar-cinnamon topping with cocoa, cinnamon, marshmallows, chocolate, espresso and cayenne pepper — yes, you read that right — to create a cookie that is what dreams are made of.

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If it’s cocktails you’re looking for, have your chocolate and drink it too with a chocolate martini. Shaw’s Burgers on Magnolia serves a Chocolate Strawberry Martini with double chocolate vodka and Tequila Rose Strawberry Cream. Simply Fondue in downtown Fort Worth makes one with dark and light creme de cacao, hazelnut liquor, vanilla vodka, Kahlua, Baileys, and sweet cream. The simplest version of the chocolate martini is just chocolate liqueur, vodka, an optional splash of Kahlua and a cocoa rim. This The Spruce Eats has a perfect recipe for making at home. It’s an every day dessert cocktail that can be customized according to how sweet you like it. You can find it at TheSpruceEats.com.

I prefer my cocktails on the dryer side, but still love the bite the cocoa can add to them, so I created something a little bit different. This is somewhat of a mix between a margarita and a martini (similar to a Mexican martini but no olives). It’s simple, just combine about a tablespoon of Tajin and a teaspoon of cocoa powder on a small saucer. Roll the rim of two glasses in honey and the Tajin-cocoa mixture. In a large glass, mix 3 oz. good tequila, 2 oz Lillet or your favorite vermouth, 2 oz. lime juice, and a half oz jalapeño juice (I like the kind from the Mezetta jar). Mix thoroughly and strain into your glasses. You can find a how-to video on my Instagram @ModernHippieKitchen.

If you try out any of these recipes or hot spots, take a photo and tag us on Instagram @ModernHippieKitchen or @FWBusinessPress. We want to see how you work chocolate into your February menu!

Sarah McClellan-Brandt
Sarah McClellan-Brandt first wrote for the Business Press in 2003-2006 as her first job out of TCU, and it only took her a decade and a half to figure out that food writing might be her calling. She created the recipe blog Modern Hippie Kitchen in 2020 for the same reason many new food bloggers did – to quell pandemic boredom and share the cooking lessons she’d been teaching herself and learning from poring over dozens of cookbooks.

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