Being infatuated with chocolate really didn't become stylish until the gourmet foodie craze gained traction in the 1970s - at least not in America. I'm not certain when the term "chocoholic" was coined, but I sense the presence of marketers hoping to convince average Americans that a heart-shaped box of Russell Stovers would no longer pass muster on the Day of Love.
I certainly offered no resistance when chocolate was elevated to a status symbol. I had already joined the legion of chocolate obsessors, though I was something of a convert.
I spent much of my childhood in chocolate exile, the result of a food allergy trend that gripped America in the 1950s and early 1960s. The doctor who banished me from the land of chocolate convinced my mother that a single bite would be the end of me. I was forbidden to eat chocolate cake at other children's birthday parties and was restricted to the two-thirds of Neapolitan ice cream that wouldn't do me in.
It was living hell.
At some point, the allergy diagnosis evaporated, which is what happens with most food-based health scares. Whether I "outgrew" the allergy to chocolate, as the doctor insisted, or it had been a figment of his imagination to begin with, I'll never know. I am sure of just one thing: Once I figured out that chocolate wasn't lethal, I made eating it my favorite pastime.
As a newly emancipated chocolate eater, I discovered a passion for the combination of chocolate and caramel, whether it's in ice cream, candy or baked goods. To my way of thinking, this is dessert synergy perfected.
One of my first exposures to the chocolate-caramel combo was through a simple recipe that my mother latched onto during those early years when chocolate was once again allowed in the house. I still make these chocolate caramel bars every so often, when I have to come up with a dessert for a potluck or it's my turn to bring snacks. This is also the perfect dessert to share with friends on Valentine's Day.
14 ounces of caramel candy
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 cups flour
2 cups quick oats
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon soda
1 cup melted butter
16 ounces milk chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the caramel and evaporated milk together in a double boiler or in a saucepan over low heat. Let cool slightly.
In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, soda and butter. Press enough of the mixture into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan to form a 1/2-inch crust, reserving 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the mixture.
Bake the crust for no more than 10 minutes.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the crust, then spread on the milk and caramel mixture. Sprinkle the reserved oat mixture over the top.
Return to oven and bake 15 to 20 minutes, until the chocolate and caramel melt.
Cool before cutting into squares.