Food Glorious Food


While some may ask, “Why make chocolate when it’s so much easier to buy it?”

I ask, “Where’s the fun in that?” Plus I really love gourmet dark chocolate bars, the ones made with exotic flavors and textures. But, they can cost five dollars a bar, sometimes more.

I set out to see if it was even possible to make chocolate from scratch. Now, because the chocolate used for candy-making sometimes requires heat tempering, (a special process which preserves the shiny, dark appearance), I figured that making it was going to be complicated and time-consuming. Wrong! No kidding – you can easily whip up a batch in under 30 minutes. Mind. Blown.

And, creating chocolate from scratch allows you to tailor ingredients to satisfy your own personal tastes, and you can modify it in so many ways!

For instance, I’ve been reducing my intake of refined sugar lately. It has really worked wonders for me, in eliminating cravings, and keeping post-treat crashes at bay. I’ve found that honey and maple syrup work really well as sugar replacements. So I’ve used them in this recipe.

As for the rest of the ingredients, there are only 3 basic elements in chocolate: cacao/cocoa powder, cacao/cocoa butter and sweetener.

Cacao butter

What’s the difference between cocoa and cacao? Put simply, cocoa and cacao butters are both vegetable fats derived from the cacao bean. Cacao powder differs from cocoa powder in that it’s less processed, considered more pure, and is also processed under lower heat, therefore is considered a “raw” food. There is a barely-noticeable difference in taste and texture, and cocoa does cost a bit less. Also, some say that cacao is more nutritious. They use words like flavonoids and phytic acid… but… snore… I went to sleep after reading about those. If you’re interested, check out this site.

From there, any flavors or extras are what make your chocolates your signature. Do you like peanuts better than almonds? Add some! Or add raisins or craisins. Swap out the vanilla with mint, orange or rum flavorings. You can even add spices or powdered flavors: instant espresso, cinnamon, red chili powder, etc.

However, this is IMPORTANT:

Do not let even one drop of water get in your chocolate mixture. If you do, it will seize and become a gritty, nasty, mess. Also, don’t add things like brewed coffee, non-alcohol-based liquid flavorings, etc.

Now let’s make some chocolate!

Gourmet Salted Almond Dark Chocolates – makes 20 to 30 pieces

(Click here for printable recipe)

1 cup cacao butter (100 grams)

1 cup cacao powder  (70 grams)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup honey or maple syrup

½ cup chopped almonds, toasted

½ tsp. flaky salt

Chop almonds, and toast in a sheet pan in the oven, 350° for 8 to 10 minutes, or until light golden brown.

Melt cacao butter in a glass bowl (or double boiler) over a barely simmering pot of water. When most of the solids are melted, remove the bowl from heat. Place on a dishtowel on the counter to cool for a few minutes.

If using honey, heat in microwave for 15 seconds. This helps with incorporating the honey in the mixture, as they will have similar viscosities.

Add honey (or maple syrup, if using) to melted cacao butter, and mix well with a whisk. **It takes several minutes for the honey/syrup to combine with the cacao butter – longer than you might expect. Be sure to take the time to ensure the sweetener is well combined with the butter. If you skip this step, you will end up with unevenly sweet chocolate. You can see the honey is well mixed when it goes from being a two-toned mixture to one with tiny bubbles, or “globs” of fat, to finally being slightly cloudy.

Once the sweetener is fully incorporated, add cacao powder and vanilla. Stir well.

 

Add almonds and mix to combine.

Scoop a tablespoon or so of mixture into candy cups or mini cupcake wrappers. Top with a few flakes of sea salt.

Refrigerate until set.

Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Gourmet Salted Chocolates Recipe

Hello friends.

It’s been FAR too long since I’ve written a blog. It’s not that I’ve been idle. There has been a LOT going on. Crafting, cooking, travelling… yes all of it. And a new podcast!

In case you didn’t know, I’m what some call a multi-potentialite. Also known as a person with many pursuits or interests. I have always said that I bore easily, but it’s so much nicer to have a fancy multiple-syllabic term to connect to my “condition.”

One of those pursuits is a podcast I’ve been producing and co-hosting with the brilliant actress/writer/director/producer, Illeana Douglas. (Also a multi-potentialite. … see why we get along?)

It’s called I Blame Dennis Hopper, and is based on Illeana’s memoir of the same name. (Side note: Read the book. It’s absolutely fantastic!) So far, we have published 35 weekly-podcasts (maybe we’re not exactly NEW…). We’ve had actors, directors, producers, comedians on the show… an amazing array of talent. It’s not a typical talk-show type of format, where folks just come on to promote their latest project. Illeana has an incredible encyclopedic knowledge of film history, and a long list of talented friends. They come in studio, and with Illeana leading the way, really delve into their passions, their process, how they got to where they are, and what really excites them. And we’ve had a bunch of guests have fantastic revelations while chatting with Illeana!

Illeana and I always like to ply our guests with tasty snacks (we both know that feeding folks makes them more comfortable and happy.), like my microwaved potato chips (requested EVERY week), and she makes peanut or cashew butters, and we usually have something sweet to share too.

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If you’re a film fan, an Illeana fan, or just like interviews with fascinating folks, I highly recommend the I Blame Dennis Hopper podcast. It’s available on YouTube and iTunes. You can also look at our website, Instagram page and Facebook page to find out who is our most recent guest.

Listen in, comment, enjoy. Thanks gang… more Tamara stuff coming soon!

Zucchini Tart The Tamara Blog

It’s squash season! Know how I know? This.

Zucchini Tart -- The Tamara Blog

Yep. I harvested this 8 pound+ monster summer squash from my garden. And that was one of 4 harvested that day. Actual size: 8lbs. 12.1 0z. My nephew was smaller when he was born. Just sayin’.

Big Zucchini the Tamara Blog

Garrison Keillor, the host of the radio show, Prairie Home Companion, about the small, fictional town Lake Wobegon says, The town is so small that people lock their car doors at church only in July during the zucchini harvest—to prevent others from adding a bag of squash to the front seat. Yep.

With that kind of yield from my garden, I have to get creative with the squash. I love making zucchini soup, bread, and this tart is one of my all-time favorites. It’s adapted from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. You’ve probably seen those pretty little apple tarts shaped like roses in pastry shops. I thought it would be fun to try a larger version. It’s not at all hard, looks very fancy, uses a fair amount of squash (key!), and this galette is seriously delicious.

Floral Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Lemony Ricotta Zucchini Galette

  • 1 – 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 – 2 yellow summer squash, both thinly sliced (3 1/2 – 4 cups)
  •  Salt
  • 1 unbaked piecrust (you can use store bought)
  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil — separated
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest (finely shredded lemon peel)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Fresh dill — chopped

Directions

Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Then, using a mandoline (or sharp knife and patience), slice squash thinly, on a diagonal.

Floral Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Floral Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Sprinkle zucchini lightly with salt. Transfer to a colander; drain for 15 minutes. This helps remove some of the moisture, so you don’t have a soggy galette. Pat dry with paper towels.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Meanwhile, on a large piece of lightly floured parchment paper, roll pie dough to a 12-inch circle. Transfer parchment and dough to a large baking sheet; set aside.

For ricotta filling, in a medium bowl whisk together ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella, garlic, 1 tsp. of the olive oil, lemon peel, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Using a spatula, spread over dough, leaving a 1-1/2 inch border.

Take one of the smaller zucchini half-ovals, and roll it in a sort-of-spiral or tube, with the round edge facing up. Place in the center of the galette.

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Add half-ovals around the center ‘rose,’ working toward the outside edge tilting up, and alternating colors.

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

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Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

As you go, fill in layers with more “petals.” I also add folded or curled ones to give the galette a more organic look. Continue until the cheese is covered.

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

When the surface is covered to your liking, drizzle squash with remaining 2 tsp. olive oil. Gently fold over pastry edge, pleating as necessary.

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

In a small bowl, whisk egg yolk and 1 tsp. water. Lightly brush pastry edges with egg mixture. Transfer galette to oven. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Sprinkle with dill weed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

Floral Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

√

Floral Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

I’ve even added carrots to the galette (and baked in a pie plate when I took it to travel), to add some more color. Click here for a printable version of the recipe.

Floral Zucchini Galette -- The Tamara Blog

I’m pretty happy I have this baby! Enjoy.

Zucchini tart -- The Tamara Blog

 

Fruit Shaped Cheeseballs The Tamara Blog

Come on… who doesn’t love a cheese ball? They’re fun to eat, and easy to make. Being a bit of a cheeseball myself, I have a particular affinity for these orbs o’ dairy.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “Cheese balls in Autumn?! Heaven forfend! Everyone knows National Cheese Ball day is April 17th. What kind of celebration enthusiast are you, Tamara?”

In truth, I have no idea why cheese ball day is in April. Makes no sense. These lactose spheres are perfect for football parties, I mean… in my family, we call October the beginning of cheese ball season! So, if you’re going to eat ’em in autumn, why not serve ’em in fall-fruit form?

Here I offer a simple and delicious way to ‘fancy up’ a cheesy classic. 

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Apple Cheese Ball

  • 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbs. butter, softened
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (must be finely grated)
  • 1 Tbs. apple brandy
  • 1 Tbs. apple jelly or apple butter
  • 2 cups fried onions
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • branch and leaves for garnish

P1080784

Pear Cheese Ball

  • 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbs. butter, softened
  • 5 oz. crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, softened
  • 1 Tbs. pear jam or jelly
  • 1 Tbs. pear brandy
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans
  • yellow food coloring
  • branch and leaves for garnish

Ingredients note:

You can use flavored liquors instead of brandy — it’s just that the brandy has a richer, fuller flavor than a liquor.

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Process:

In a bowl, combine cream cheese, butter and cheddar or gorgonzola cheese. Beat with a hand mixer or stand mixer until fluffy.

Add in jam and brandy, and beat until combined.

Place mixture in refrigerator while working on next step.

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For Apple cheese ball:

Place fried onions in a ziplock bag and crush finely.

Add smoked paprika, and toss/knead to combine.

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For Pear cheese ball:

Toast walnuts/pecans in a dry frying pan over medium heat, or in the broiler, until golden brown. Set aside to cool. Once cool, chop nuts finely (you can use a food processor for this step). Add 8 to 12 drops of yellow food coloring, if desired.

Place mixed coating in a small bowl.

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Remove cheese mixture from the refrigerator and shape into desired form with your hands. Cheese mixture can also be placed in plastic wrap and molded, to keep hands clean.

Once a rough apple or pear form is achieved, drop cheese ball into bowl with coating, and press coating into the surface, refining fruit shape as you go.

After cheese ball is formed, add decorative leaves, and display.

Apple and Pear Shaped Cheese Balls printable recipe

These can be refrigerated for 2 days, or frozen for up to a month. Be sure to allow time to thaw before serving. No one wants a tooth chipped by chilled cheddar.

Enjoy these glorious globes of cheese, an homage to the fromage in you!

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As many of you know, I’m a big fan of the bubbly, and Champagne — the real deal — has no equal.

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Friday, October 23rd, 2015 is the sixth annual celebration of the effervescent wine, made exclusively in the Champagne region of France. Originally designated in 2009 as “a Friday in late October,” World Champagne Day is dedicated to popping corks and raising glasses. International law dictates that only sparkling wine that comes from Champagne can be called… Champagne. So respect the title, friends!

A little while ago, I created an entire full-length Tamara Twist episode to sparkling wine, which you can view on YouTube. The episode is chock-full of recipes, crafting, traditions and trivia.

Sabering a bottle Collage

If you only have a few minutes, check out my Champagne Sabering video here.

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So let’s drink a toast to World Champagne Day! 

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Enjoy!!

*Antique graphics courtesy The Graphics Fairy.

 

 

The Essential Teacher "emergency" kit -- The Tamara Blog

I have two sisters, both teachers (and a slew of cousins who are too!). One works at an elementary school, the other at a high school. Their jobs make for a fun summer for us all, but come August, they dread going back.

Not that they dislike their jobs, but come on… don’t we all hate the end of summer?

SomeEcards

One sister (the lucky one) lives nearby. When she started to feel the pull of the job, I figured that she needed a little care-package/emergency kit before the hustle and bustle of the new school year began. This is a great gift for friends or relatives, or other teachers you know. In my opinion, teachers tend to be highly under-appreciated, so any little token that acknowledges how hard they work goes a long way. So does a little humor.

Teacher "Emergency" Kit -- The Tamara Blog

Here is my take on the Back to School Emergency Kit for Teachers. I figure all the items need to be useful or fun, and all can go for male or female teachers. And if they’re things the teacher won’t think of, all the better. My remedies come in 4 categories: Wellness, Getting Through the Day, Luxuries, & After Work. No school supplies here. And nearly all of them came from my local drug store.

Teacher "Emergency" Kit -- The Tamara Blog

  • Wellness: Lozenges, hand sanitizer, Emergen-C, tissues.
  • Getting Through the Day: Pain reliever, energy snacks, antacids, Tea/Coffee packets, chocolate-covered espresso beans, peanut-butter packets, single-serving cereals, coffee gift cards.
  • Little Luxuries: Calming hand lotion, aromatherapy items, chocolate, microwave popcorn.
  • After Work: Single servings of wine, fuzzy socks, a good novel, meditation music.

Find printable labels here from a template by World Labels. (World Labels has fantastic designs, for free!)

While these are already designed, you have to cut out each label individually. If you’d prefer to design your own labels, you can find the pre-cut stickers as well as the label template here.

Kit Tags

Teacher "Emergency" Kit -- The Tamara Blog

Obviously the wine can’t go with the teacher to school (nor can it be presented on school grounds — use your own discretion), but some of the other items will end up in desk drawers, for whenever they’re needed.

Teacher "Emergency" Kit -- The Tamara Blog

Teacher "Emergency" Kit -- The Tamara Blog

Get a container, start gathering goodies and pack it up. Print the labels (be sure to set your printer to “actual size” when printing the pdf), and cut and arrange. I promise you, the gift, and the thought behind it, will be very well received!

Teacher "Emergency" Kit -- The Tamara Blog

She Loves the Kit -- Teacher "Emergency" Kit -- The Tamara Blog

She loves it!

Teacher "Emergency" Kit -- The Tamara Blog

 

Enjoy!

May 25th is National Wine Day. So how about doing some cooking with wine?

In my Tamara Twist Champagne episode I have several ideas for cooking with wine.

Wine Poached Artichokes — they’re so good!

Champagne Poached Artichokes, The Tamara Twist

Bellini Popsicles. A refreshing grown-up take on a summer treat.

Bellini Popsicles

Champagne Jello Jigglers

Champagne Jigglers -- The Tamara Twist

 

Enjoy the day, and do it responsibly!

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