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

Holiday Napkins The Tamara Blog copy

Super Simple Christmas Tree Napkins

Easy Christmas Tree Napkins -- The Tamara Blog

I love an easy craft that has big impact, and these Christmas tree napkins really fit the bill. They’re super simple to make, are customizable and so beautiful!

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

My mother is a crafter, kitchen wiz, and fabulous fiber artist. She made most of the clothes I wore growing up – the really cute ones, anyway.

When I was 13, she gave me a pattern and fabric, showed me how to thread a sewing machine, and taught me how to sew, a skill for which I’m eternally grateful. Mom’s favored fiber method these days is quilting, and she makes some beautiful ones.

A few Christmases ago, she handed me a pile of these napkins that she had recently whipped up, and off I went to set the table. So many beautiful fabrics, and the design is so simple, by the end of dinner I knew I had to have my own and wanted to share the design. You’ll need a sewing machine to make them, but even if you’re a beginning sewer, this is a perfect project to start. Your friends will be so impressed!

For the fabric, I headed to the quilt shop. Quilt stores have the best selection of prints. Look for “fat quarters,” as they work great for this craft.

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

A fat quarter is a special piece of fabric, sold already cut, that usually measures 18” x 22”. In quilt shops you’ll often see fat quarter bundles grouped into beautiful combinations. If you can’t find fat quarters, just buy ¼ yard pieces of material.

When choosing fabrics for this project, select one green, or tree-style design per napkin, and one complementary design for the opposite side.

To make the Christmas tree napkins, you’ll need:

Fabric – 2 styles per napkin

Ruler or drawing compass

Fabric marking pen or pencil/chalk

Thread

Sewing machine

Needle (for hand finishing)

·      Fold the fabric in half, right sides together, so the piece is 18” x 11”.  (If using standard cut fabric, just fold along the short side. You’ll have half-circles at the end, instead of full circles that need to be cut in half.)

·      On the fold, or long side, mark the center of your circle.

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

·      Measure the width of your fabric piece, this will determine the size of your circle.

·      Using the ruler or compass as a guide, mark a semi-circle on the wrong side of the fabric.

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

·      Cut along the marker line, then, cut the circle in half along the fold. (Omit this step if you’re using standard fabric.)

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

·      Use this first circle as a pattern for cutting others.

·      Continue cutting remaining fabrics until all are cut and matched up.

·      Sew together semi-circles with ¼” seam allowance (right sides together). Take care to make sure corners are well defined with stitches. Stitch all the way to the edge to ensure sharper points.

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

·      Leave open 2” space for turning.

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

·      Turn circles right-side-out. Tip: Use a pencil or fork to help make the corners sharp.

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

·      Press each napkin and slip-stitch closed the open space.

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

To present the napkins, start with the non-tree side facing up. Fold over about half way, then back, then back again. Adjust folds as needed.

Easy Christmas Napkins, The Tamara Blog

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Green Scroll Napkin - The Tamara Blog

As you can see, these beauties can be made to be formal or whimsical, depending on your fabric choices. And they don’t have to be exclusively Christmas decorations. The trees could be made in fall colors for Thanksgiving, or white and green to be used all winter long.  Use your imagination, and enjoy!

Winter White Napkin - The Tamara Blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Champagne Palooza Stills1

Hey everyone… I’m so happy to ring in 2014, and with it I offer our latest Tamara Twist video, Champagne-Palooza, now available online. Champagne is such a versatile, enjoyable and fascinating element of celebration, and perfect for our first in-depth episode.

These twists on champagne are, of course, well suited to New Year fetes, but sparkling wine can really be enjoyed any time of year.

In the video, you’ll find trivia, crafts, recipes and all manner of silly fun. I hope you enjoy it.

1-Champagne Twist

I had a blast making this episode. Happy celebrating. And remember: Don’t ever let anyone dull your sparkle!

xo, T