Archive for January, 2016

How to Store Chocolates

January 29th, 2016

Usually, chocolates don’t last beyond a day as they are gobbled up soon enough. But some of us may want to preserve chocolates for many days and months. Chocolate like any other perishable food item must be kept in special conditions to keep fresh.

Here are some ideas to store chocolates for some time.

  • Avoid refrigeration as much as you can. The main problem is that chocolate will easily absorb the odour of all types of food stored in the refrigerator. So don’t be surprised if the chocolate stored in the fridge smells of meat curry or Roquefort cheese. Moisture in the fridge may also lead to ‘sugar bloom’. It implies that sugar rises to the surface and causes discolouration of chocolate. Bu the effect is only cosmetic and does not affect flavour, so don’t be too worried.
  • Store in dry, cool place. The emulsions of cocoa butter and cocoa solids will stay in good condition for several months if you keep chocolate in consistent temperature below 70 degree F and humidity lower than 55%.
  • Keep them sealed in an air-tight container. The first reason is that cocoa butter picks up any odour around it like garlic, mint, coffee, etc. Second reason is that oxygen in air causes oxidation of chocolate that produces not so palatable flavours.
  • Dark place: Keep chocolates away from light. This includes not only sunlight but also artificial light. Light causes bad flavour to develop, just akin to oxygen. Both factors are anathema either you get chocolates by post or from market and stored.
  • Longevity of chocolate will improve: Milk chocolate will last for a year while dark chocolate will stay for two years. White chocolate is more perishable and lasts for only four months. Another less lasting chocolate are filled chocolates like truffles.
  • Sometimes refrigeration is an option: In the heat of summer, not everyone has air conditioning at home. But before putting chocolate in fridge, first wrap it tightly to prevent odours and seal it in an air tight container. When it is time to eat the chocolate, take it out of the fridge and allow it to remain at room temperature for sometime before unwrapping the cover. This way chocolate can be stored for 3 to 6 months.
  •  For longer storage: If you want chocolate to last from 6 months to one year, your best bet is the freezer. Pack chocolate just like keeping in fridge. After 2 hours inside the fridge, transfer it to the freezer. This is done so as to prevent temperature shock and retain texture. To take the chocolate out, follow the procedure in reverse. Remove chocolate from freezer, transfer to fridge and keep for 24 hours. After this time lapse, transfer chocolates outside fridge and allow it to thaw till room temperature before unwrapping them finally. A good tip is to always eat chocolates at room temperature, particularly truffles.
  • Extremes of temperature: The crystalline structure of the chocolates may be disturbed when you store chocolates at too cold temperatures. It may cause bloom or affect texture or both. Great care is taken by chocolate makers to combine cocoa solids and cocoa butter. This can be undone by extremes of temperature.
  •  Chocolates seldom go bad: Microbes require water to survive and chocolates contain very less moisture. So, they cannot make anyone sick.

One can get chocolates delivered to a loved one and include the above mentioned tips to help store and preserve them. Chocolates can be enjoyed for a long time if proper care is taken.

Guide to buying the best chocolates

January 28th, 2016

There was a time when chocolates were mainly associated with Hershey’s and Lindt bars. Now, there a variety of new chocolate brands in the market. All of these are pretty expensive and you need to know the tips to paying the price if you buy chocolates online or offline. So let’s get started.

See that the chocolate has ‘bean to bar’ written on it – For a good dark chocolate, this phrase is a must on the wrapper. Many of the brands make use of cocoa mass or cocoa powder from other big companies and add a few ingredients to these and then shape them into bars. The makers of beans to bars commence with roast and whole cocoa bean and together conche them into bars in their respective factories.  The companies make use of flavour beans, and it means that the cocoa itself is of a high quality, and its bars reflect the distinct flavour and fragrance. There are lots and lots of makers of bean to bar chocolates. Their labels will be a proof of their designation.

Look for direct trade or fair trade chocolates – One issue with chocolates is the ethics, just the way many ingredients, which come from the third world countries. The farmers are paid very less for all their hard work, and even in the cocoa industry, child slavery has paved its way. A fair trade chocolate signifies that, in the developing countries, the farmers are paid well and sometimes even more than entitled, from third parties. On the other hand, the direct trade chocolate signifies that the maker of the chocolate has bought and made the pay for the beans from the farmer directly and for them making good terms with good farmers is very important. They are this secretive about the source from where they get the beans. So, if you read direct trade on the chocolate, you are buying good stuff.

The country where it came from –Hershey’s used uses a mix of chocolates from various countries to make a signature taste. Many other high-end makers too blend beans, but they often make what we call the “single-origin” chocolates, in which all of the beans are from the same country — and one single farm. Each country’s beans are different in taste, and you get an amazing sense of these flavours in the bar with only those beans. Whether they are creating single-origin bar or even a blend, any high-quality brands will for sure list the beans’ countries on the label. Most flavourful of all beans come from South and Central America or the Southeast Asia, but occasionally you can also find few from Africa.

Ingredients and amount of cocoa – Eventually, how the chocolate will look and taste depends upon the ingredients and the percentage of cocoa. If you want milk chocolate, it should have at least 60% cocoa content.

So, when you buy chocolates by post or send as gifts to your loved ones, keep all of these points in mind to buy the best quality chocolates.

Exotic fruits: Strawberries and Blueberries the perfect choice for fruit baskets

January 28th, 2016

Blueberries and strawberries are two of the exotic fruits, which not only have a different flavour but are indeed power packed with nutritional benefits. Including blueberries in fruit baskets instantly makes the basket unique. In fact, strawberries and blueberries kind of add a colour quotient to the baskets making it an ideal birthday or anniversary gift. A great way to make one’s day special is to include small portions of contrasting shades of strawberry and blueberries along with grapes, apple, orange and water melon to create a fruit gift basket worth remembering. Apart from the aesthetic beauty, fruits also have nutritional benefits. Here are some of the health benefits of these two fruits.

Low calories fruits.

Calories are essential component of our bodies and what can be best than to couple it with the sweet sugary taste of fruits. Including portions of strawberries and blueberries once in a day can be really beneficial. A cup of blueberry contains about 84 calories while consuming one cup of strawberries adds in 46 calories. Intake of low and good calories is vital, which eventually helps to promote a long lasting and healthy lifestyle.

Increase fibre content in the body

Fruits in general help to increase the fibre content in the body. Fibres are essential to help clean the intestine tract and remove unwanted food particles from the body. All the more, it also helps to regulate the bowel movement. A cup of blueberry contains about 4 grams of fibre while a cup of strawberry contains about 3 grams of the same. One can either have fresh fruits or can extract the juice and consume it. Either ways, the fibre intake remains the same. In addition, the fibre content in the blueberries is a good way to control type-two diabetes.

Healthy source of carbs and sugar

Sugar molecules are very much essential for our body because it helps to strengthen the immunity system and at the same time helps in regulating various metabolically related processes in the body. In general, the carbs and sugar value are more in blueberries than in strawberries. A portion of blueberries contains about 21 grams of carbs and 14 grams of sugar while the same portion of strawberries contains 11 grams of carbs and 7 grams of sugar content. Having portions of strawberries or blueberries once in a day goes a long way to help promote the good intake of sugars and carbohydrates, which are needed by the body.

Very small amount of fat

Both the fruits contain a very small fraction of fats. While blueberries contain 0.5 grams of fat, strawberries have about 0.4 grams of fat per portion. Hence, consuming these fruits gives you a fuller appeal without adding any amount of fat to the body.

In addition to these benefits, fruits help to give a glow to the skin and at the same time keeps one’s body fresh. So, do include strawberries and blueberries not only in your daily routine, but also send fruit gift baskets to your loved ones so as to enjoy health benefits like never before.

Are Chocolates Healthy For You?

January 22nd, 2016

The debate whether chocolate is healthy rages on with conflicting reports emerging every day. So, let’s conduct an objective assessment.

The bare truth is that chocolate by itself in raw form is healthy while products made using chocolate are usually not.

Chocolates are derived from cocoa beans. To make the chocolates, they are usually separated into cocoa butter (fats) and cocoa solids (everything remaining). Both cocoa solids and cocoa butter are healthy.

  • Cocoa butter: contains a lot of saturated fat that is healthy.
  • Cocoa solids: contains zinc, magnesium and copper and lots of fiber. Also have high content of anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are found to have cardio-vascular benefits like lowering blood pressure.
  • Chocolate liquor: Melted chocolate containing cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Does not contain alcohol.
  • Phytic acid: Here is the hitch. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient, found in raw cocoa beans. It sticks to minerals and prevents body to absorb them. But good news is that most phytic acid in cocoa is destroyed when beans are heated and fermented.

So far, all is well with chocolates. But the problem comes when other junk is added to the chocolate; be careful while getting chocolate gifts delivered for a sick person.

  • Sugar: This is enemy number one for your health. Sugar is added in generous quantity to most commercial chocolate bars and its detriments are commonly known.
  • Milk: It may or may not affect your health but it is definitely not good for everyone.
  • Flavouring, preservatives, soy lecithin, emulsifiers, and stabilizers: Some may be harmless but most come as bad news.

A good chocolate product is one which is rich in cocoa solids and cocoa butter but does not contain the above junk elements. Very often this means you have to buy expensive, high quality brands. Real cocoa butter is costly and cheap brands try to substitute and add emulsifiers and additives to compensate for natural cocoa content. For the real thing, be prepared to shell out more cash.

Here is a rundown on forms of chocolate:

  • Unsweetened cocoa powder: Mainly consists of cocoa solids and lacks tasty and healthy cocoa butter but overall very healthy form used for cooking.
  • Unsweetened baking chocolate: Combines cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Mostly used in chocolate based recipes.
  • Dark chocolate: contains cocoa butter, cocoa solids and a bit of sugar. But sugar content is miniscule in comparison to some popular fruits, so it is not a health issue.
  • Milk chocolate: Has milk, cocoa butters, cocoa solids and high quantity of sugar. Most common brands are unhealthy.
  • White chocolate: Contains milk, sugar and cocoa butter minus cocoa solids. On the unhealthy side! Most of us have access to only cheap white chocolate, loaded with sugar and other junk.

In sum: Like most plant food, cocoa beans provide high nutritive content. It is rich in healthy fats and anti-oxidants. Eating them after roasting and fermenting is a healthy treat. It is a delicious luxury and not a staple in our lives. Nowadays, you can order chocolates online, who will deliver chocolates by post.

 But sugar content in most chocolate candies is worrying, health wise. You can do well by picking a brand that has minimum junk. All said and done, you cannot rule out some junk content in all chocolates. But one way to get around this problem is by using cooking chocolate to make recipes that will satisfy your chocolate fix.

Seven Wonder Substitutes to Butter

January 21st, 2016

“Stressed” spelt backwards is “Desserts” and cakes are delicious desserts, which we simply cannot resist. Feasting on a piece of cake after dinner or nibbling on a pastry in between work hours satisfies the soul as much as the body. But cakes are loaded with calories, and hence, we cannot indulge ourselves as much as we would like to.

What if we can find healthier options for baking that perfect cake, which looks and tastes like the one you got from cake delivery? Then, you can have your cake and eat it too!

Typically, the main ingredients of a cake are flour, butter, eggs and sugar. Butte contains saturated fats, which contribute to most of the fat content in cakes. Saturated fats are known to block blood vessels and increase levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. If we replace butter with healthier alternatives, it would make baking more enjoyable and guilt free.

Here is a list of ingredients, which could be substituted for butter.

1. Olive Oil

Olive oil has been used in dressing salads. But yes, we can bake with it too. It contains the healthy unsaturated fats. So, the added calories of this oil are actually beneficial for the heart.

Proportion: Substitute 3/4th cup of oil for each cup of butter while baking.

2. Yoghurt

Yoghurt is full of healthy bacteria and adding it will boost up your protein intake too. Baking with it will make the cakes moist and fluffy.

Proportion: For each cup of butter, use ½ cup of yoghurt

3. Avocados

By swapping avocado for butter, you are replacing the saturated fats with healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats. Avocados also contain high amounts of potassium, fibre and Vitamin K. Baking with avocados will significantly reduce the fat and calorie content. But, be prepared for a change in the colour of the batter. It will turn slightly green.

Proportion: ½ and ½ mix of avocados and butter will yield a soft and delicious cake.

4. Bananas

Bananas are ideal substitutes for butter in cakes, which have a rich and dense texture. The calcium and minerals present in it add to the goodness of the cake.

Proportion: Substitute an equal amount of banana for the butter required in the recipe.

5. Applesauce

Applesauce is a great swap for butter. It ensures moist and delicious cakes with reduced calories.  It works great and gives the cake a moist and fluffy texture. If you cannot find apple sauce in the supermarket, check the baby food section for stewed apple.

Proportion: Replace half the amount of butter in your recipe with apple sauce.

6. Pumpkin Puree

A fabulous substitute for muffins and coffee cakes, pumpkin puree ups the nutritional value while adding very few calories. Pumpkin contains potassium, fibre and Vitamin K. Mail a pumpkin puree cake through cakes delivery to your loved ones, and they wouldn’t be able to recognize the swap you made.

Proportion: Replace each cup of butter with 3/4th cup of puree.

7. Coconut Butter

Coconut butter is the meat of the coconut ground it a paste. It shouldn’t be confused with coconut oil. The versatile coconut is packed with many essential fatty acids, brain-boosting nutrients, fibre and even protein. It is low in sugar and this makes it a healthy alternative to butter.

Proportion: Replace equal parts.

Now we can bake a nutritious cake packed with a host of vitamins and minerals. Cause, baking calms the mind and soothes the soul.