What Is a Chocolate Truffle – A Short Primer

In today’s chocolate market there is a spectrum of confections that are referred to as “chocolate truffles”. While their quality can vary, this non-judgmental primer is meant to clarify what exactly is (and in some cases isn’t) a chocolate truffle and to highlight the important differences to chocolate lovers seeking specific experiences when enjoying their favorite treat.

A non-chocolate truffle is a fungus that grows beneath the ground, often roughly spherical and like many other types of edible fungus, soft when bitten. Chocolate truffles can be any shape (spherical or cube-like) and feature a center made of ganache.

Ganache is a mixture (technically an emulsion) of fat-based and water-based liquids. When made and set properly, well-made ganache maintains a firmness that is easily handled yet is smooth when bitten. The classic ganache formulation is chocolate and cream. There have been many innovative variants to this formulation to allow vegetarians and vegans to enjoy chocolate truffles free of dairy products.

In the realm of chocolate truffles, there are predominantly two main styles originating in Switzerland and Belgium. These approaches differ mainly on the method of enrobing. Enrobing is simply the chocolate coating applied to the center.

Belgian-style truffles feature a moulded method of enrobing. Chocolate is placed in fancifully-shaped moulds with multiple cavities (which may be made of silicone or polycarbonate) and allowed to drain out leaving chocolate to set in each cavity. This is done often at least a couple of times to form a coating strong enough to withstand the filling of the cavities with ganache or some other center. For chocolatiers, a mould allows for interesting decorative techniques to be used such as spray painting the moulds with edible inks or paints prior to filling. The mouth experience when bitten is usually a hard crunch followed by the soft center.

The Swiss approach is to directly enrobe the ganache center with chocolate. This may be done manually through hand dipping with special utensils or an enrobing machine where centers are placed on a conveyor belt and passed beneath a chocolate waterfall! The coating is often very thin and in the case of hand dipping, to achieve a delicacy to the enrobing is part of a chocolatier’s skill. A wide-range of decorative approaches may be applied often with a piping bag but may also include spray-painting after enrobing. The mouth experience when bitten is a delicate crunch followed by the smooth center.

There are many confections with the outward appearance of a truffle but if a confection doesn’t include ganache within it, it’s technically not a truffle. This includes those with nougat, praline or jelly centers. Confusion occurs when a Swiss enrobing style is used for truffles with a ganache formulated using Belgian chocolate!

There are many bonbons on the market that appear to be truffles but the center formulation is closer to candy. Again, this is non-judgemental. Candy is not a bad word! Despite working with some of the finest ingredients in the world I must confess a deep love of Peanut M&Ms! For me, no movie-going experience is complete without a bag to accompany me! But the difference between candy and truffles is an important one when shopping for chocolate gifts to treat yourself or someone special. There is an elegance to ganache that creative chocolatiers enhance through unique recipe formulations which lends itself more to an occasion.

A common bonbon often mistakenly referred to as a truffle are those with a liquid or syrupy center. The classic example here in Canada is Lowney’s Cherry Blossom and in the U.S., Christopher’s Big Cherry. Both of these products are technically cordials. A chocolate coating surrounds a liquid center and in the case of these old favorites, a maraschino cherry as well.

Tea and Beauty – 5 Ways Tea Will Make You Gorgeous

A cup of gourmet tea works as a stimulant in your body,from removing bad breath to prevention against cancer. We have heard a lot about the manifold health benefits of tea. But do you know about the many beauty benefits?

Well, drinking tea is not the only way to extract its benefits. Tea can be applied directly to the skin, working as a toner, moisturizer to revitalize your skin in many ways. It sounds great to have a beauty aid that is all natural and the cost is minimal. Here are some more details regarding tea and beauty.

Tea is a natural toner and moisturizer.

Did you know that tea can naturally cleanse and moisturize your skin and make it feel softer? Mix two cups of freshly brewed tea in warm bath water. Now, let yourself soak in the bath water for 20 minutes, allowing the tea extract to work its magic in cleaning, toning and moisturizing your skin.

Don’t forget to take a shower after soaking to rinse off the tea-infused water or you may find that your skin have become more tan. Yes, a nice temporary tan is another beauty offering of tea.

Tea freshens your face and tightens the skin.

Facial skin is more delicate than the rest of your body, hence the need for extra care. Take two to three tablespoons of cooled green tea and dab it all over your face with a cotton ball. Let the tea absorb for 10 to 15 minutes. Then wash it off.

Applying green tea twice a day will help to remove impurities, clean clogged pores and tighten your skin. The result is a healthy glowing youthful skin which you have always dreamed of.

Tea can be used to exfoliate your skin.

There is another way you can use tea in your facial beauty treatment. It has been known for a long time that herbal soap makers are mixing tea leaves in their bathing bars for the purpose of skin polishing. Why not incorporate this in your face cream also?

Crush a teaspoonful of dried tea leaves and mix it in your face cream. You will have created a mild but effective scrub for your skin. Massage the cream mixture gently onto the face in a circular clockwise motion for 15 to 20 minutes. This will remove dead skin cells and polish your skin. Wash your face with lukewarm water and pat dry. You will agree that your skin never felt so soft and clean.

Tea soothes tired eyes and removes dark circles.

Lack of sleep, too much exposure to sun and long hours of work in front of a computer are all conditions which may lead to those ugly dark circles and puffy eyes. Many of us use cucumber slices to remove dark circles. But did you know that your previously brewed tea bags can work wonders in relieving tired eyes?

A cup of gourmet tea is what most of us like to have after returning home from work. Don’t throw away the brewed tea bags. Instead, allow to cool and put them over your closed eyes and take rest for 15-20 minutes. The tannin and caffeine in tea will act to revive blood flow in the skin under the eyes and shrink blood vessels to reduce puffiness.

Tea cools off sunburns and soothes skin irritations.

No matter how careful you are before going out into the sun, sunburns can happen due to exposure, especially in the hot summer sun. Don’t worry! A few wet, refrigerated tea bags on the affected area will cool off the burns.

You can also use cool, tea-soaked cotton pads instead. This can easily be applied to the burned skin; allow the skin to soak in the tea for 20 minutes. You will see the magical healing effect of tea on sunburned skin.

Garden Crisp Salad and the Secret Formula to Create Your Own Homemade Salad Recipes

Salads are universal. Asia, Europe, America… just about anywhere you go, salads are part of the menu. Perhaps because they’re simple to prepare. Toss in some greens into a bowl, add your favorite fruits, and voila! Your homemade salad is ready to serve.

However, salad preparation isn’t just about throwing in all sorts of vegetables and fruits into a dish. Ever noticed buffet diners dumping just about every ingredient at the salad bar unto their plate? It’s not a very pretty picture. You wouldn’t want to be serving a heap of whatnot to your guests, would you?

Fret not. Creating your own homemade salad recipe is actually effortless and fun. Here is a secret formula to salad-making dubbed as The Three T’s. And what better way to talk about it than to prepare a straightforward salad recipe.

Garden Crisp Salad

Main ingredients:

1 cucumber (sliced thinly)

1 carrot (sliced into thin strips)

Optional ingredients:

1/4 lettuce

1/4 grapefruit (chopped)

1/2 turnip (sliced into thin strips)

1 hardboiled egg (sliced thinly)

Thai pat sauce or your choice of dressing

Recipe 1: Mix main ingredients into a bowl. Top with your favorite dressing.

Recipe 2: Mix all the ingredients, excluding lettuce and sauce/dressing. Set aside. Arrange leaves of lettuce on a salad dish. Place the mixed ingredients on top of the lettuce. Top with sauce or dressing.

The Three T’s

Tint. Cuisine is a creative endeavor. Enticing your guests to try out your personal recipe highly depends on the aesthetic appeal of the final product. Salads don’t really carry an aroma, so you will have to do with visuals to whet their appetite. Imagine yourself as a painter and your ingredients as your palette of colors or art materials.

Garden Crisp Salad Recipe 1 is a simple, yet ideal example, of using tint when selecting ingredients. In contrast, Garden Crisp Salad Recipe 2 is a feast of pastel colors. Nevertheless, the varying shades are well-balanced and pleasing to the eye.

Texture. Apart from color, texture adds to the palatable experience. It tells a lot about the freshness of ingredients-something you cannot disguise. Although texture appeals mostly to the sense of touch, it also makes your dish visually interesting.

Both recipes balance out the crisp and tenderness of each ingredient. Balancing isn’t a must. In fact, you can serve a bowl of mangoes and peaches, which are tender, and it would still be great. Feel free to experiment until you find just the right touch for your homemade recipe.

Taste. So you’ve enticed your guests with their sense of sight. It’s time to hit the spot right where it matters. Behind all the fancy aesthetics, food is really about flavor. No matter how attractive a dish is, you have to get the taste right. It is the make it or break it point.

Both recipes are pretty safe when it comes to taste. It gets tricky with the sauce and dressing. Some overwhelm their salads with thick, rich dressings. Others just want a hint of spice and tang.

For the sample recipes above, the Garden Crisp Salad is meant to be easy to the senses. Ideally, a small amount of sauce will do the trick.

With The Three T’s formula, you can have fun exploring the many homemade salad recipes you can create. It will be a great way to surprise your family, neighbors, or coworkers on the next celebration!

Matcha, Green Tea From Japan

After traveling to a green tea plantation and seeing how ‘matcha’, powdered green tea was grown and processed, I was inspired to write haiku! Perhaps it was from the fresh smell of tea in the air and also the sense of lift and well-being after enjoying a nice hot cup of matcha. I found the matcha helped overcome jet lag and travel fatigue. That’s why I’m an advocate for matcha green tea. It helps restore energy when traveling, provides mental clarity and a natural lift with the right combination of l-theanine and light caffeine. The powdered whole leaf matcha has ten times the antioxidants and catechins, known for building health and preventing diseases, than just a regular cup of infused tea from a tea bag. Although all green tea is good, matcha is the super food version of a cup of tea. And when traveling it keeps your immune system strong to ward off colds and flu.

It all began in Japan when Monks brought back tea seeds from China in the 9th century. But it was Eisai, a Japanese monk who is credited with the beginning of the tea tradition in Japan who wrote a book in 1214 called, “How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea.” The monks would press the tea into cakes and take it with them wherever they would go, often stopping on the side of the road to boil water and break off a piece of the cake to make tea. The Japanese have incorporated green matcha in their foods as well and have reaped the amazing health benefits of this smooth, delicious tea.

Matcha comes in a variety of grades such as bulk, culinary and higher grade ceremonial matcha. I prefer to drink organic ceremonial, the first flush of tea harvested every May in Japan. It tastes slightly vegetal, is very smooth and has a light sweetness. Because matcha production in Japan is highly supervised and follows strict HAACEP regulations for growing and processing, you can be assured you are receiving a clean, safe, high quality product. Tea leaves are lightly steamed, dried and kept in cold storage. When it’s time to process, the tea is fed through a funnel into a granite stone grinder. Although now electronically driven, the stone grinders move slowly taking over an hour to grind one ounce of finely powdered matcha. This is the same as the hand grinding of the stones used during the last 800 years of tea tradition in Japan. The matcha powder is captured in a shiny clean stainless steel bin, then moved directly to packaging in a sanitary environment and shipped upon order. Other countries may not have strict regulations in place and some capture their matcha in a cardboard box. One can only shudder to think about the low standard of the processing, so sticking with the best insures delivery of a high quality product. Once you’ve had this high quality standard, it’s hard to drink or settle for anything less.

Cricket under straw

Sunlight green leaves shimmer bright

Smooth tea in my throat

haiku-Katherine Bowers

The Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony

Tea is a very integral part of Chinese culture and the ceremony surrounding its preparation and serving is an interesting event to witness. The wedding Tea Ceremony is the most auspicious tea ceremony of all as no Chinese wedding can be complete without it. This ceremony serves as an introduction of the bride to the groom’s family and is an intricate ritual filled with symbolism.

Preparation of the tea

There are many tea varieties in China. Usually the tea is prepared with red tea and infused with lotus tea and red dates placed directly in the tea pot. These additions are symbolic of fertility and the sweetness of the blushing bride and are believed to promote happiness between the two.

The arrangement

A small table is set up with the tea service including the tray with a tea pot and two tea cups. Sometimes a lotus flower and two cowrie shells are also placed on the table dignifying unity and prosperity for the couple.

The tea service

The ceremony usually takes place early in the morning as traditionally, the bride is received in her groom’s home before dawn. Women and men sit to the left and right respectively and the bride and groom kneel in front of them. With the assistance of the maid of honor, the couple serve tea in a delicate ceremony to the groom’s family. The order of service is parents, grandparents, great uncles and aunts, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and finally married cousins. The bride and groom take their tea last, served by younger siblings or any unmarried cousins.

The relatives when served tea present gift tokens on a platter in the form of red envelopes or jewellery. A token is also given to the best maid for her assistance. The tea set also forms part of the couple’s wedding gifts. Modern variations include a second tea ceremony held for the bride’s family when they visit their in-laws home or at the bride’s home. Also, for hygiene purposes, the tea cups may be rinsed after serving each guest.

This elaborate ceremony is an ancient tradition passed down through generations and is a good way of preserving culture in a rapidly evolving society. It helps reinforce family values and the hierarchy and role of each member of the family. It also serves as a good forum to welcome a new bride into the family, the elders’ blessings and approval a good foundation for the marriage.