This article is for all you romantics that may be short on money, or just plain frugal.
When Geri and I hit the After-Christmas sales, one item I always watch for is nice boxes of chocolate candy that I could give to my husband, teachers, co-workers, or children for Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, then there’s Easter, Father’s and Mother’s Day, and my husband’s birthday is in the Spring too. So getting nice chocolates at 75% off the retail price is simply smart shopping.
It’s very convenient that red is the color for both Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and many of the boxes are wrapped in colorful red, silver or gold paper, making it perfect for gift-giving for that romantic holiday. Look for wrap that does not scream Christmas, like stripes, solids or scroll designs. Of course, you can always rewrap it.
Having the box wrapped in pretty ribbon is also a plus. If the boxes also have Christmas-y adornments, just remove them and replace with the current holiday, leaving the ribbon. You can save the holiday picks to use for next Christmas.
I even found big boxes of Jelly Bellies during the After-Christmas sales for 75% off that I’ll give the kids for Easter. Also look for gourmet cookies, nuts, mixes, cocoa, and sauce sets that would make wonderful gifts for any occasion.
I always check the “Best by” date on the package to be sure it’ll still be in date for gift-giving. I personally feel that “Best by” are a guideline since many of the products are perfectly fine after that date. But if you are giving the gift outside of your family, then keep these dates in mind.
Here are other things to keep in mind when shopping.
Shelf Life: Chocolate, I learned when I toured Stephanie’s Chocolates in Denver, has a long shelf life. The shelf life of chocolate is generally a year or even two. However, ingredients such as nuts will shorten the shelf life because of the protein content.
Storage: It’s best to keep chocolate in a cool, dry place for storage (55-60 degrees F). Do not place the chocolate in the refrigerator or freezer, or white areas will form (see below). Chocolate rarely lasts more than a few months in our house, but I recently discovered a box in my closet from a year ago that I’d overlooked. We opened it this Christmas, and everything tasted wonderful.
White Areas: Have you ever seen chocolate that has white areas and wondered if it was OK to eat? The short answer is yes! Chocolate contains cocoa butter, a vegetable fat that is sensitive to heat and humidity. Temperatures above 75 degrees will cause chocolate to melt. The cocoa butter can rise to the surface and form a grayish discoloration called “cocoa butter bloom.” Condensation on milk or semi-sweet chocolate may cause sugar to dissolve and rise to the surface as “sugar bloom.” Neither “bloom” affects the quality or flavor of chocolate.
Cocoa: Cocoa is considered a non-perishable item, which should maintain freshness if stored at room temperature in a tightly sealed container. Look for cute tins of cocoa to give as late as next Christmas.