Hello friends!

I’m very excited and honored to announce that I’ve partnered with my pal Fabio Viviani (Top Chef fan fave, chef extraordinaire, restauranteur, and super fun guy) to write for his wonderful online magazine, titled appropriately, Fabio’s Magazine! 

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Starting with the August issue, that just came out, I’ll be a regular contributor with my DIY Style with Tamara Berg articles, offering crafting, food and lifestyle projects and ideas. You can make sure you always get the latest issue by subscribing here.

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And, if you want to know a little about me and my relationship with beets… take a look here.

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Oh, and one thing got mixed up… #4. I’ve never been to Colombia (yet!). Here’s what should have been there for my “weirdest food” answer:

4) What is the weirdest things you have ever eaten and where were you?

Most of the weird food I have eaten has been in China. There was Ox-Liver Mushroom in Shanghai, and Ant Soup in Hong Kong. Whenever I travel, I like to steep myself in the culture; so trying the local fare is a part of the experience. I love the inventiveness of everyday chefs. People make some crazy food in other parts of the globe!

This is a special occasion breakfast treat, perfect for Father’s day.

Candied Bacon Hearts -- The Tamara Blog

I should note here that the irony of taking bacon, something considered not good for your heart and shaping it into a heart, is not lost on me. But my  justification for this recipe is that the heart shape could represent how you feel for the person to whom you’re giving the bacon. In my case it represents one thing and one thing only – how I feel about bacon itself. I just love it! Sorry, all you vegetarians, I know your pain. I used to be one, but the bacon beckoned.

This Candied Bacon is a favorite for fancy brunches, but I often make it as an hors d’oeuvre. (When serving as an appetizer, I just make simple strips.) It’s crispy and crunchy and sweet and salty and a little bit spicy. Just a bite or two satisfies all your food cravings. It’s beautiful for a party, and equally welcome for a breakfast-in-bed special treat. A word of caution: be sure to make plenty. I’ve never had leftovers… darnit!

Make ahead and serve at room temperature or serve warm.

Candied Bacon Hearts (click for printable recipe)

  • 1 package thick-cut bacon
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Place a rack over a foil-covered pan with sides (not a cookie sheet).

To make hearts, cut bacon in half lengthwise, then crosswise. Each heart will require one half a piece of bacon.

Working on a piece of paper towel, and one heart at a time, season bacon with pepper, then sprinkle with a light layer of brown sugar.

Sugared bacon in process
Move bacon to the prepared rack. Place the bottom short edges of two bacon strips on the pan, overlapping to form the bottom point of the heart.Sugared bacon in progress

Overlap bacon edges

 

Next, fold over the top ends, twisting each once to create the top loop of the heart. When forming the heart, alternate bacon ends. Gently press the intersection of the four ends together. Sprinkle on more sugar, if desired.

Bacon hearts on rack

(If making as simple strips, lay the strips on the rack, pepper, and sprinkle with a layer of brown sugar.)

Place in oven and bake 25 to 40 minutes, depending on the thickness of bacon. Remove when crispy.

Candied Bacon Hearts -- The Tamara Blog

Serve immediately, or set aside to cool. Can be made one day in advance, and reheated before serving. They’re tastiest when served warm or at room temperature.

TIPS: Clean-up from this recipe can be a mess if you don’t use the rack-and-foil method. If, by chance, you don’t have a rack & pan combo that will work, try this kitchen hack: Take a sheet of heavy-duty foil, twice the size of your sheet pan. Fold the foil in ½” accordion pleats. Spread out over a foil-covered sheet pan. Lay bacon perpendicular across the foil ridges to lift it from the pan bottom. Once the bacon is done cooking… simply toss all the foil in the trash.

Fabio Vivianni Loves my Candied Bacon!
If making this bacon as an hors d’oeuvre, it’s probably best to serve in simple strips (like the ones chef Fabio Vivianni is holding in the pic above), as the heart halves sometimes separate. And that just won’t do!

Enjoy this decadent treat – your loved ones surely will!

 

 

 

Caption Beautiful sweet and salty toffee pretzels.

 Beautiful sweet and salty toffee pretzels.

Ah yes, there is a holiday for everything. And April 26th is, at it turns out, National Pretzel Day here in the US.

By far, my favorite way to eat pretzels is dipped in toffee. I posted this recipe a few years back, but here it is again. It’s worth a revisit. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of my Toffee Pretzels Recipe.

DSCF7003 Tamara's Toffee Pretzels


I do love a good soft pretzel, and have made them at home (key: look for a recipe that uses baking soda, like this one). They’re really worth the effort.

DSCF6583 Pretzels Cooling

DSCF6589 Brown Pretzels

I hope you have a delightful and carbo-licious Happy Pretzel Day!

 

DIY Soap Petals

Mother’s Day (in the US) is May 11th this year. Here’s a quick but special gift for any Mom.

 

Scented Soap Petals

These soap petals are, in effect, beautifully scented, teeny, tiny washcloths. A little treat for your guests and a great twist on the hostess gift.

Tools and Supplies:

  • Fabric Rose Petals — available at craft stores in the Wedding section.
  • Glycerin soap base, unscented – from craft stores, or sometimes found at grocery stores.
  • Essential oils –your fragrance makers. Get them at drug stores, craft stores, or online.

Instructions:

Cut the soap into cubes and place in a glass bowl, 5 oz will make about 75 petals. You can melt the soap using a microwave, but a double boiler is better at maintaining a constant temperature.

When the cubes have melted, stir in your essential oil. 5-10 drops is plenty. When choosing your fragrance, you can always use rose, as the petals are usually rose petals. But you can also consider the color of your petals – neroli or grapefruit oil for peach-colored petals or lavender scent for purple petals.

One by one, give your fabric petals a quick dip. It’s important to only dip one at a time, so they don’t stick together and make a mess. Make sure they’re fully coated. Remove them with chopsticks, tongs or tweezers. Cool on a metal rack and your petals are done!

Place in a pretty dish on your bathroom counter. For those who aren’t sure how to use them, a friendly note is always helpful (see below). No messy bar-soap, no ugly hand soap. Yay!

They can also be scattered to make a romantic bubble bath. But do remember to remove the petals before draining the tub or you’ll have to call a plumber.

I’ve included some text for you to put in your soap petal dish. (Soap Petal Labels)

Bonus Tip: I like to make mine semi-waterproof by covering with packing tape before cutting out.

If you’re looking for more fancy labels, check out the printables at my pal Cathe Holden’s blog, here.

 

A quick revisit of several of my blogs that are great for St. Patrick’s day.

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For my Toffee Pretzel Shamrocks, see here.

You can find the Rainbow Cookies here.

How to make a Celtic Knot bracelet here.

My Lucky Penny necklace blog is here, and my book, A Penny Saved can be found here.

Have a lovely St. Patrick’s Day!

As always, the day before lent is Mardi Gras, and this year it falls on March 4th. As mentioned in a previous blog (found here, go read it!), Fat Tuesday is also known in many parts as Pancake Day. This year I wanted to revisit the holiday, so I made American pancakes with a little update, using jam as a decorative and delicious accent.

Mardi Gras Pancakes with Berry Syrup

Never having been to The Big Easy, I was surprised to learn that Mardi Gras has ‘official colors.’ (Who knew?!) They are Purple, Green and Gold.

According to the site MardiGrasNewOrleans.com:

The official Mardi Gras colors were selected in 1872 to honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Alexis Alexandrovich Romanoff, whose house colors were purple, green and gold. The 1892 Rex Parade theme “Symbolism of Colors” affirmed the colors’ meaning.

Purple Represents Justice. Green Represents Faith. Gold Represents Power.

To honor this, I made my pancakes using berry jam (purple), lemon zest (gold), and a little mint (green).

Mardi Gras Pancakes

Here’s my mother-in-law’s recipe:

  • 1-1/3 cup flour
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbps. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together the dry ingredients with a whisk. Add egg, milk, oil and vanilla. Stir together and cook on hot griddle until done.

To make the fancy fleur-de-lis design, I used seedless boysenberry jelly, and put it in a plastic bag with the corner cut off.

Pipe the jelly onto the pancake on the griddle.

Now. Here’s the tricky part. When I flipped the first few pancakes, the jelly smeared. To prevent this, I took out my handy kitchen torch, and applied heat to the uncooked side of the pancake, until the surface was cooked just a little. When the ‘gloss’ of the batter was cooked away, it was ready to flip, and no longer smeared.

Use torch on top of pancake

*Note: The fleur-de-lis is not directly connected to Mardi Gras, but does have connections to New Orleans. As a francophile, I just like the symbol. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to draw, and just looks fancy. You could also make swirls or hearts. Go crazy!

For more information and another recipe, take a look at my original blog on Mardi Gras and Pancake Tuesday here. Enjoy!

Mardi Gras Pancakes with Mint

Update: I just learned that the National Cathedral in Washington DC has an annual Pancake Race. Check out the pics for the 2012 Pancake race here. And the 2013 race pics are here. Fun!

Single Truffle Spoon with Ribbon

Chocolate ganache is a magical kitchen concoction. It’s an elegant cake drizzle, a silky whipped-frosting topping, and a gorgeous truffle interior. It’s versatile, impressive and deceptively easy to make. Ganache is one of those things that everyone should have at the ready. (And now that Trader Joe’s carries SHELF STABLE whipping cream, at any time, you can be 5 minutes from a perfect ganache!!)

TJs Cream

These truffles can be easily adapted to fit your taste. Craving a little spice? Add ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon or cayenne pepper to the mixture. Need a kick? Add a teaspoon of instant espresso. For a more adult flavor, 2 or 3 Tbs. flavored liquor does nicely. For texture, mix in a couple tablespoons of finely chopped nuts, crispy rice, or toffee. The possibilities are limitless.

Display of Wrapped spoons

But the best thing about these little cuties is the presentation. I received these super cute wooden ice-cream spoons in my Christmas stocking from my sister. I wanted to make chocolate nib truffles for Valentine’s Day, so the elements all came together for this treat.

Wooden Spoons

About ingredients:

Better chocolate makes for better truffles. Considering there are only 2 or 3 ingredients in these truffles, know that your chocolate will be the star. I love Belgian Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate. It’s delish all alone. In a truffle, it’s magnificent.

Cacao nibs. You may have seen them in fancy chocolate bars. Basically, they are the ‘mother’ of chocolate products – Nibs are cacao beans that have been shelled, roasted and crushed. Eventually the nibs/beans get pulverized, pressed and mixed with sugar and other ingredients to become what we know as chocolate. The slightly bitter nibs add a rich, lovely, vaguely nutty element to the truffle.

Salt. It’s all the rage to add salt to sweets – the fact that Starbucks has a ‘salted caramel hot chocolate mix’ indicates that the fad may have hit its peak. But truth be told, the salty-sweet combo is legit. Let’s face it, we like it, and we’re gonna continue to like it. (See Toffee Pretzels) That said, instead of sea salt, I use a Brava coffee flavored salt (find it here. I’ll show you how to make your own in another blog.). It adds another layer of flavor that really makes these truffles special.

Here’s how you can make these amazing chocolate ganache truffle spoons.

Packaged spoon

Chocolate Truffle Spoons with Cocoa Nibs

Truffle Ganache Filling

  • 1½ C semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • 1-2 Tbs. cacao nibs, coarsely chopped

Chocolate Coating

  • 2 C chocolate
  • 2 Tbs. shortening
  • Coarse salt (optional)

If using bar or chunk chocolate, chop coarsely. Place chocolate in a glass bowl or pitcher. Add cream. Place in microwave, and heat for 30 seconds. Stir with a whisk. Return to microwave for another 15 to 30 seconds and stir again. Repeat heating and stirring until chocolate thoroughly melts, is fully combined and glossy. Voila, ganache.

cream choc

choc in micro

stirring

Mid Stir

Note: Be careful not to overheat, as the chocolate can easily burn. Depending on your microwave, the melting process should only take about one to two minutes.

Add Cocoa Nibs

Allow to cool. To speed up the process, place in a shallow dish and refrigerate.

In order to pipe the ganache onto spoons, the mixture needs to be thick, but not so firm that it won’t pass through the pastry bag. The desired consistency is like that of frosting.

Piping bag

Place the ganache/truffle mixture into a piping bag, and pipe onto spoons. If you find the ganache is not thick enough, pop into the fridge for a few minutes. If it’s too thick, knead with warm hands for a few minutes, and it will loosen up.

pipe onto spoons

Place the piped spoons onto a parchment or waxed paper-lined tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While the spoons are chilling, in a small saucepan, place 2 cups of chocolate, and 2 Tbs. vegetable shortening. Warm on low, stirring constantly until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat, let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

Piped spoons

Remove truffle spoons from fridge, and quickly dip into the melted chocolate to coat, allow to cool on waxed paper or parchment. Do this step quickly, as the warm chocolate can cause the ganache truffle to melt and fall off the spoon! (Learned that one the hard way.) Sprinkle lightly with salt and refrigerate another 5 minutes.

Dip Spoon

Fresh Salt

Delish finished spoon

Serve immediately or wrap and give as gifts. Makes 30 to 40 small spoon-sized truffles.

Variations:

Truffles on metal spoons

Use larger spoons for a larger ‘bite.’

These truffles can also be made without the spoons. Simply scoop with a spoon and roll with your hands, cool and dip in melted chocolate, or roll in cocoa powder or finely chopped nuts.

Truffle spoon on rose

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Wooden spoon truffle with ribbon

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Three Spoons on a Tray

Enjoy!

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