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Native Cooking Column by Dale Carson

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Love is in the air, it's everywhere, as well it should be! How can anyone resist chocolate? Funny, I couldn't care less about it for years. A brownie once in awhile took care of any desire for it. Now, I must have had a hormonal change because I get cravings for chocolate and must have it right there and then.

What is that about? Other people tell me similar tales.

Many people love chocolate and peanut butter together. These are two totally Native American foods. A short history of chocolate goes like this:

2000 BC - The cocoa plant is believed to have originated in South America.

300 AD - Evidence of cocoa use by the Maya. They called it "xocoatl," or bitter water.

600 AD - Mayan culture used it in religious ceremonies and their language refers to it as "god's food." Cocoa began to move north in this time period.

1200 AD - The Aztec culture embraced the cocoa plant wholeheartedly. They used spices, chili peppers and even cornmeal to add flavor to the drink since they did not have sugar yet. Records from this time indicated that cocoa beans were used for currency.

1528 AD - "Chocolatl" was taken to Spain. There it was mixed with sugar, vanilla, cloves, allspice and cinnamon.

1579 AD - A Spanish ship carrying cocoa beans was set on fire by the British who thought the beans were sheep dung. Eight years later, the British burned another ship of cocoa beans, calling this cargo useless.

1600s AD - Throughout this century, Europeans indulged in a chocolate craze. It became extremely fashionable, especially in royal circles where it was reputed to be an aphrodisiac. The Aztec and Maya thought of chocolate as a medicine, probably not as an aphrodisiac.

1677 AD - Cocoa plantations became important for the world marketplace. Brazil established many and became a major supplier.

1765 AD - The first chocolate factory in the United States was located in Dorchester, Mass.

1770 AD - The first chocolate mill in the United States was founded in Norwich, Conn.

Zappable Fudge

You will need a microwave oven for this one. If you don't have one, you can still make it in a double boiler.

3 cups semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

1 14-ounce can of condensed milk

1/4 cup butter

1 cup chopped walnuts

Put all ingredients, except the nuts, in a large bowl. Microwave for two to three minutes, stirring once or twice during this time, until chocolate chips are melted. Stir in the nuts and pour into a well-greased square baking pan, 8 x 8 inches. Put in the fridge to set. Makes about two pounds of fudge. To vary the recipe, substitute one cup of peanut butter chips for one cup of the chocolate chips.

Chocolate Drop Cookies

6 eggs

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1 pound powdered sugar

3 cups flour

4 tablespoons cocoa

1 tablespoon cinnamon, ground

1/2 tablespoon nutmeg, ground

1/4 tablespoon cloves, ground

Beat the eggs for a long time, until they are fluffy. Add the sugar and beat some more. Fold in the flour, cocoa and spices. Grease a couple of cookie sheets. Drop the cookie dough by the teaspoon-full onto the cookie sheets. Let them stand at room temperature overnight. In the morning, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake the cookies for 10 minutes.

This probably isn't a good recipe for you if you have dogs or cats. They might see the cookies on the counter and think it's a party for them.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Bars

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 egg

1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup peanut butter

1-1/3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan. In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together and beat with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Beat in 1/4 cup of the peanut butter and beat until smooth. Mix the baking powder into the flour and put this mixture into the batter and combine all. Spread batter evenly into the baking pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake about 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes.

While this cools, mix the chocolate chips and remaining peanut butter in a small saucepan over very low heat. Stir until the mixture is smooth and spread this glaze over the top of the bars. Cool all for at least 30 minutes. When hardened, cut into bars.

Notes and Tips

*I once worked in a craft store where we sold cooking chocolate and molds for making your own candies. A woman came in once in awhile to give demonstrations. She made it look very easy and had all these yummy fillings. It was a kind of tempered chocolate and would harden right away in the refrigerator. It would be a lot of fun for a kid's birthday party.

*If you make hot cocoa and it's just too hot to drink, pour a little milk in or put a teaspoon of marshmallow fluff on it.

*Chocolate in just about any form freezes beautifully. So do nuts.