Queen Bee of Chocolate. For Lora Brody, Valentine's Day means lots of chocolate

Lora Brody takes to chocolate like a boll weevil might take to Johnson & Johnson cotton balls. I, on the other hand, would suffer M&M meltdown before remembering to pop one into my mouth.

So it was with a little apprehension that I visited the ``Queen Bee of Chocolate'' at her attractive ``hive'' near Boston.

Ms. Brody's devotion to chocolate came early, and without protest. She was raised on it. Proof is her humorous reminiscence, ``Growing Up on The Chocolate Diet: A Memoir With Recipes'' (Little, Brown, Boston, $16.95).

She obviously shares this love of chocolate with the rest of the world - present company excluded.

Chocolate consumption peaks around Valentine's Day - that 24 hours when it reaches 24-karat status among just about everybody - from lovers, sweethearts, and schoolkids - to bridge clubs and bridge builders.

The Brodys' house is appropriately painted the color of the raspberry-cream filling in those heart-shaped chocolates in a Whitman Sampler.

Inside, the flavor is quite different. Not a piece of chocolate in sight. Just a small, gold, empty cardboard chocolate box in the trash.

``I eat chocolate every day,'' says the svelte Brody. ``Chocolate has become very sophisticated,'' she adds, ``not only in quality, but in the way it's packaged. Now people are giving those classic, individual pieces that look like jewels. They're wonderful. Of course, they ought to be at $2.50 a hit!''

Chocolate is a universally loved flavor, Brody believes. To illustrate, she continues, ``The ex-publisher of Chocolate News used to tell of being in the mountains of Nepal on a yak. `When I broke open a bag of Hershey Kisses, the crowd went wild!'''

``But,'' I reminded her, ``even mediocre chocolate is going to beat rancid yak butter - a Nepalese staple - any day.''

Undaunted, Brody goes on to explain the appeal of chocolate. ``Good chocolate - real chocolate - is expensive, because it contains cocoa butter. It's the only fat that melts exactly at body temperature.''

To make sure you're getting quality in chocolate, Brody suggests, ``Look for chocolate that contains real cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. Not palm kernel or coconut oil, which is often substituted.''

Brody also appreciates the versatility and adaptability of chocolate. She describes several of the many meals she's attended or prepared where chocolate appeared in every course, including ``...a first course of `Scallops and Shrimp With Red Peppercorns, and White Chocolate Sauce.'''

I was becoming a convert.

At her first ``Chocolate Binge'' back in 1981 in New Paltz, N.Y., Brody organized three days of chocolate lectures, demonstrations, seminars, and eating.

``We even had a Brown-and-White Ball, where everyone came as his favorite piece of chocolate. Someone came as a chocolate moose [mousse]. My mother came with dollar bills pinned all over her brown leotards.

``A Junior Mint!'' Brody explains.

Brody admits that chocolate concoctions got a bit carried away during the days when nouvelle cuisine peaked. ``I mean chocolate potato chips! Come on!'' But now it's beginning to level out and get a bit more serious.

``People are beginning to experiment with chocolate. They're less afraid of cooking with it and are becoming educated to what good chocolate is.

``There will always be a place for fine chocolate that has a shelf life of eight days. The kind with no preservatives,'' she says.

Brody also suggests reading the ingredients on the label, and not being fooled by the brand name. ``A lot of people think if the brand sounds `foreign,' or can't be pronounced, it's got to be from Europe and wonderful.''

Just when I was leaving, and Brody had me convinced that chocolate was the perfect Valentine's Day gift to give and receive, she confessed, ``You know, as much as I love chocolate, I just wish somebody would send me roses for Valentine's Day!''

Even though I am an admitted non-chocolate lover, the following Brody recipe is a favorite of mine. The blend of fine chocolate and juicy fresh fruit is beautiful and luscious.

The recipe is easy, if a few important rules are observed. If strawberries must be washed, take great care in blotting them thoroughly dry. Any moisture can cause the chocolate to ``seize'' and ruin it.

For orange sections, Brody advises using navel oranges and peeling them carefully so the membranes are intact and white part removed. Chocolate-Dipped Fruit 1 pound good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate 3 pints fresh strawberries with stems, or naval orange sections.

Grate or chop chocolate in very fine pieces. Place 2/3 of chocolate in metal bowl of double boiler - or metal pan that can easily fit into another pan. Heat water in bottom of double boiler until a mercury thermometer reaches 120 degrees F.

Turn off heat and place bowl of chocolate into pan of water. Stir gently until melted. Remove from burner and stir in remaining chocolate. Stir until melted and smooth.

Wipe any water from thermometer and check temperature of chocolate. Ideally, it should be between 85 and 88 degrees F.

(An alternative method is to melt the entire pound of chocolate with 4 tablespoons sweet - unsalted - butter in a bowl set over gently simmering water.)

Once chocolate is melted, you must work quickly before it cools too much.

Dip each piece of fruit into chocolate, covering half of each piece, and place it quickly on waxed paper-lined cookie sheets. Fruit may be refrigerated until serving.

Peel fruit off wax paper and serve on chilled platter or fine china.

Serves 4 to 6 people.

Lora Brody's latest book is ``Indulgences'' (Little, Brown, Boston, $17.50) - a book devoted to the author's ``quest for the delicious things in life'' - chocolate, and beyond.

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