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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes, & Cooking, #47

Updated on August 26, 2018
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

Five Weeks!

In just a little over a month, I will be marking the 1st anniversary of this weekly series. And I'm happy to report that the questions continue to roll in each and every week.

As you read this my older daughter and I will be on a mini-vacation, just a few days away to recharge our batteries with shopping, watching Disney movies and reruns of Property Brothers, and (probably) eating too much chocolate. So I won't be responding to any of your comments until Wednesday.

By the way, on Wednesday I will also have another article for you. I won't give you any clues (I want it to be a surprise) but I think you'll be pleased.

Well, let's get started.

Homemade Croutons

My son now prefers the 21 whole grains and seeds bread I eat. As the result, I have 3/4 of a loaf of buttermilk bread that's sitting in the fridge. I'm thinking I should make croutons out of it rather than throwing it away. So, 1) how should the cubes be seasoned, how long and at what temp do I bake them? and 2) how do I store them. Can homemade croutons be frozen?

Shauna - Like you, I can't bear the thought of throwing out perfectly good food. I've created a once-a-month series on "Loving Leftovers" (I publish it on the 1st day of each month) and recently did one on "Stale Bread."

You asked about croutons, and they are easy to make. Here's a basic recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of bread cubes, cut or torn into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter or oil (Don’t use soft-spread kinds of margarine because they contain water).
  • seasonings (see below)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  • Toss bread cubes in olive oil or melted butter. Add seasonings and toss again.
  • Spread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet.
  • Bake 10 minutes, stir and then bake 10 minutes more.
  • When completely cool, store in a covered container.
  • Yes, they can be frozen.

Seasoning suggestions:

  • 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning, or
  • 1/4 teaspoon herbes de Provence, or
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon grated cheese (Parmesan, Romano, or Asiago are great)

So Many Types of Chocolate!

For the chocolate that is baking chocolate, not cake covering or eating chocolate? The world of chocolate is so confusing.

Oooh, chocolate frosting!
Oooh, chocolate frosting!

Mary, I don't blame you for being confused. Chocolate is not a one-size-fits-all type of product. Milk chocolate, dark, baking, and the list goes on. I'll do my best to summarize here.

The Chocolate Family Tree

Cacao (Cocoa) Beans -This is where chocolate begins. Cacao beans are the fruit of the cacao tree, a tree which grows in a very limited climate zone--only 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.

Cacao Nibs -These are the "meat" of the beans. The beans are cleaned and then roasted in carefully controlled temperatures to bring out their full flavor and aroma. The outer shells are then removed and the nibs are ready for the next step.

Chocolate Liquor -This is what makes all real chocolate products. The nibs are ground by a process that creates enough heat to liquefy the cocoa butter, thus creating the liquor.

Cocoa Butter -This is the vegetable fat that is extracted when the chocolate liquor is pressed under high pressure. This butter has a unique melting quality that gives chocolate its wonderful texture.

Cocoa Powder -There are two types of cocoa powder. American Process is the what remains after cocoa butter is extracted from the liquor. There are no additives or preservatives. It is 100 percent pure and has the lowest fat content of any chocolate product. Dutch Process cocoa is made from chocolate liquor that has been treated with an alkali agent. This makes a darker powder with a more intense cocoa flavor.

Unsweetened Chocolate -This is commonly called bitter, baking, or cooking chocolate. It is pure chocolate liquor, cooled and molded. With no sugar at all, it may smell like chocolate, but the taste is extremely bitter and is meant solely for baking where sugar or other sweeteners can be added. This is the base for all other forms of chocolate except, of course, for white chocolate.

Sweet Chocolate - This crowded category is essentially every dark chocolate that contains any amount of sugar. By law, it must contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor, but most contain about 55 percent or up to 70 or 80 percent for extremely dark chocolate.

Semisweet and Bittersweet Chocolate - These are subcategories of sweet chocolate. Semisweet is manufactured in both bars and chips and is primarily an American term.

Milk Chocolate -Again, like semi-sweet chocolate but also contains milk or cream and at least 10 percent chocolate liquor in the United States. European brands vary.

White Chocolate - Is not really chocolate at all. It is made from the cocoa butter but contains no liquor.

Couverture Chocolate - You won't find this on your grocer's shelf. This confection is used and loved by professional bakers because it melts quickly and smoothly and is the perfect chocolate for coating candies. Couverture contains a high percentage (at least 30 percent) of cocoa butter along with cocoa liquor and it is expensive. Liquid gold.

Product
Cocoa butter
Milk Solids
Milk fat
Fat-free cocoa solids
Cocoa solids
Milk chocolate
≥10%
≥12%
 
 
 
Sweet chocolate
≥15%
<12%
 
 
 
Semisweet or bittersweet (dark) chocolate
≥35%
<12%
 
 
 
White chocolate
 
≥14%
≤55%
≥20%
≥3.5%
United States guidelines

Mary, in my research on this topic, I looked for tables that would more clearly explain the percentages of cocoa solids and cocoa liquor. The standards are VERY different in the United States vs. the European Union and, in looking at those two tables, it became very apparent to me (and will be to everyone else) why you are so confused.

Product
Total dry cocoa solids
Cocoa butter
Non-fat cocoa solids
Total fat
Milk fat
Milk solids
Flour/starch
Chocolate
≥35%
≥18%
≥14%
 
 
 
 
Couverture chocolate
≥35%
≥31%
≥2.5%
 
 
 
 
Chocolate vermicelli or flakes
≥32%
≥12%
≥14%
 
 
 
 
Milk chocolate
≥25%
 
≥2.5%
≥25%
≥3.5%
≥14%
 
Couverture milk chocolate
≥25%
 
≥2.5%
≥31%
≥3.5%
≥14%
 
Milk chocolate vermicelli or flakes
≥20%
 
≥2.5%
≥12%
≥3.5%
≥12%
 
Family milk chocolate
≥20%
 
≥2.5%
≥25%
≥5%
≥20%
 
Cream chocolate
≥25%
 
≥2.5%
≥25%
≥5.5%
≥14%
 
Skimmed milk chocolate
≥25%
 
≥2.5%
≥25%
≤1%
≥14%
 
White chocolate
 
≥20%
 
 
 
≥14%
 
Chocolate a la taza
≥35%
≥18≥
≥14%
 
 
 
≤8%
Chocolate familiar a la taza
≥30%
≥18%
≥12%
 
 
 
≤18%
European guidelines

Wow, your chocolate selections must take up an entire aisle in the grocery store!

Before we leave this topic, let me add one more bit of information. Enjoying, savoring chocolate is much more than a mere moment on the lips (and 20 years on the hips). Experiencing chocolate is actually very similar to tasting wine. Just as wine grapes are influenced by soil and climate, chocolate picks up nuanced flavors from variances in altitude, terrain, and weather. You will find that if you are purchasing chocolate to eat (rather than bake or cook with) the flavor will vary by manufacturer.

Is It Difficult to Make Cheddar Cheese?

How difficult is it to make cheddar cheese? Our cheese here (in Brazil), with the exception of a Gorgonzola, is rather flavorless. We have never made cheese before, is cheddar difficult to make?

Mary, I have a simple answer with a complicated background. Yes, you can make cheddar (or other hard cheeses) at home. The basic ingredients are:

  • 2 gallons of whole milk
  • 1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter (or 4 ounces prepared mesophilic starter)
    1/2 teaspoon liquid rennet (or 1/2 rennet tablet) diluted in 1/4 cup unchlorinated water
  • 1 tablespoon cheese salt

I found a great make-it-yourself recipe here.

But then it gets a bit complicated (I feel like I'm Alice falling down the rabbit hole). If you can find a source for "direct-set mesophilic starter" you are good to go. But if not, what do you do?

Well, this website explains how to make your own starter.

That recipe requires cultured buttermilk. Don't know how to do that? Here's a link to guide you through that process as well.

Wow! I love cheese, but I'm not sure I would want to jump through so many hoops. I hope you can source the starter (I'm thinking Amazon but I'm not promoting that site if you get my drift {wink})


'My Favorite Things' is where, once a week, I tell you about a cooking tool/gadget that I love. This is not a promotion of high-tech, high-cost equipment. The tools I share are low-cost and will really benefit you in your kitchen. Today, I'll tell you about . . .

The Fish Spatula! This sounds like a “one use only” gadget, but don’t let the name fool you. They are perfectly shaped for flipping a filet of fish . . . and lots of other things too. Most are made of stainless steel which means that they are heat safe and can be tossed into the dishwasher for easy clean-up. Of course, that also rules them out for use in a non-stick pan. However, my favorite (it seems) kitchen tool manufacturer (OXO) makes a fish spatula that is coated with silicone. Safe for use in any pan, but can resist temps up to 600 degrees F. so it will even withstand the heat of a cast-iron pan.

But what sets this fish spatula apart from any other spatula? How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

  • Thin and (thus) flexible
  • A sharp edge (great for coaxing “stuck” things)
  • Easier to use than tongs or a skimmer for flipping deep-frying foods
  • Super for removing sautéed goodies (for example, potato pancakes) from the pan to a cooling rack because it has long, thin slots that drain better than any other spatula ever would!)

How to Grow and Store Sprouts

If I recall correctly sprouts are like raspberries. a "superfood". (I can't believe I just used that horrible term ;-)

But how do we grow our own as store brands just go all brown after as short as one night? So I guess I should also ask how to store them also.

broccoli sprouts
broccoli sprouts

Eric, in case there are some readers who don’t know what we are talking about, let me briefly explain what sprouts are and why they are a “super food”.

Sprouts are the ‘sprouted’ seeds of edible plants. You’ve probably seen (mung) bean sprouts in stir-fries or chow mein. Eric and I are using other seeds to make a crunchy, fresh, nutritious addition to our sandwiches, on the top of an omelet, or garnishing a light bowl of soup. Sunflowers, rye, carrots, radish, kale, and spinach are just a few of the many options.

The beauty of growing sprouts is that you don’t need a garden (no soil at all), and they can be ready to eat in as few as 3 days! But why is something so miniscule viewed as such a nutritional powerhouse? FoodFacts.Mercola explains it this way:

"Some find sprouts to be a rather odd thing to eat when the full-grown variety is on hand, but they come with their own hugely beneficial packages of nutrients that are missing from the adult version, so to speak. It only stands to reason that from the seed to the full-grown plant, there are different nutrients, and some are concentrated. The vitamin E content, for example (which boosts your immune system and protects cells from free radical damage) can be as high as 7.5 mg in a cup of broccoli sprouts compared to 1.5 mg in the same amount of raw or cooked broccoli. The selenium content can go from 28 mg versus 1.5 on the same scale. While an entire cup of sprouts may be more than you'd consume at a time, the above profile speaks to the nutrition they provide. In this amount, you get 43 percent of the daily recommended value in vitamin K (for bone strength and formation and increased protection from neuronal damage in the brain, which is helpful in treating Alzheimer's disease).

In many large grocery stores, you can find sprouts in the produce section (probably near the salad greens, organics, or mushrooms and tofu). You can grow your own, but I do feel responsible for issuing a few cautions.

  • Your equipment (jars, screens, and hands) must be impeccably clean. In 2011 an E coli outbreak that killed 40 and sickened 3,700 was found to stem from sprouts.
  • Your water must also be clean. Bottled is best.
  • Your seeds must also be clean. Some proponents of sprouts say to use organic. Other say that you must go one step further and sanitize your seeds in hydrogen peroxide. Look for seeds that are certified safe for sprouting (yes, they can be labeled in that way).
  • Choose seeds that germinate quickly.

TreeHugger has some wonderful advice on how to make your own sprouts. GardensAlive is great too. Check out both websites.

Two How-To Video's

Let me repeat. Although the above videos are very informative, I think both of them are woefully cavalier in their handling of equipment. You must ensure that everything that comes in contact with your seeds (future sprouts) is sterilized.

A full box, a long article and a happy (vacationing) author. I hope you found something interesting today. Leave your questions in the comments below, or you can write to me at lindalum52@gmail.com

Have a great week!

© 2018 Linda Lum

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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      You sound refreshed and I would pose very happy after your break.

      That is one heck of a trailer/teaser about 100.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      2 months ago from london

      Glad you enjoyed your holidays. Almost dying in NY. I leave today. Great! The heat is unbearable! Glad that you are not moderate in kale ... and love :) Have a great day!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Mary, thank you for your comments and yes, the vacation was just what I needed.

      I am not surprised that you cannot import, and the regulations are understandable. If you can obtain locally-made buttermilk though, you can probably achieve this.

      While on vacation my daughter and I wandered into a used book store. I found a publication on making cheese at home. I was in a bit of a rush so will have to do some research on what (I believe) he said about making bleu cheese. If I am successful I will include this in a forthcoming Q&A.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Manatita, you are such a tease! The vacation was wonderful but much too short.

      No, my family does not read what I write. (Well, I think one of my husband's nieces does, but that's about it as far as I know). The comment about chocolates was a joke. Actually, I walked much more than usual and did not touch a speck of sugar, coffee, or red meat. I consumed so much kale I'm feeling almost virtuous.

      No, I don't overdo even when I cook something amazing (which is every day, right?). Moderation in everything except for sharing love.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, first I haven't been a young lady since Jimmy Carter was President. Second, you've made my day.

      I have added your question to the mailbox for next Monday, but I can tell you that I've heard legend of sourdough starter more than 100 years old. Stay tuned.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna, I don't see growing sprouts as "delicate." It's more (perhaps) an over-abundance of caution on my part. The moist environment for growing sprouts can also be a dangerous breeding ground for bacteria. That is why I am vigilant about maintaining sterile conditions.

      Yes, those boxes of sprouts from the store can never get used up before they go mushy, that's why growing your own is the way to go.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, the time away was good for my soul (and I ate enough kale that I feel almost virtuous). The mailbox is overflowing, so it's back to work for this Diva.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, you get the Atta Girl reward from me. Thanks for stepping up to the plate.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Rinita, thank you. We had a wonderful time but it went by all too quickly. Even (dark) chocolate is healthy. Everything in moderation.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      2 months ago from Brazil

      Thanks for the research Linda. Regarding the cheese, I have already fallen at the first hurdle. The culture for the buttermilk I will have to find here, as importing foods is a no no. Like the US, there are restrictions on importing foodstuffs to Brazil.

      The chocolate info is interesting, I knew there were differences in American and European chocolate but didn't realize it was so complicated.

      Interesting info on the croutons and sprouts. I love both of them but haven't had them in ages.

      Thank for the info, I hope you enjoyed your break.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      2 months ago from london

      Happy vacation and you can join me here in NY. Oh! I leave on Thursday, inshal'lah. (God's willing)

      Tell me, does your children read your work and if so, what do they say about it?

      Be careful with eating too much chocolates. Tell me, do you get tempted by your own cooking? I mean, can you sometimes eat too much? Or are you frugal in everything?

      Enjoy yourself and see you WEdnesday.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Oh my young lady this one is a Mariner's home run. If someone does not think this series a great one, get me their address and they will change their minds ;-)

      Your sprout response is just what we needed. We will start growing pronto like.

      When I was a young boy, during undergraduate my wife to be and I swapped yogurt and bread "cultures"?? Can you tell me straight about them, and could one really be forty years old?

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      2 months ago from Central Florida

      Glad to see you're taking some time off, Linda. We all need to do that from time to time.

      Interesting questions this week. I had no idea growing sprouts is such a delicate operation. I love alfalfa sprouts. I often top sandwiches with them rather than lettuce. But I always end up throwing at least half the box away. The bottoms seem to get mushy/icky after a few days.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Any article with a section on chocolate is a good article for me. Rest well...recharge fully...and enjoy your time with that daughter of yours.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      2 months ago from USA

      I’d gladly be the taste tester for the chocolate. I’m very giving that way. Taking one for the team.

    • Senoritaa profile image

      Rinita Sen 

      2 months ago

      Very interesting mailbag. Chocolates, cheese, and sprouts to compensate.. lol.

      Hope you enjoy your vacation!

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