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

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

 

Who doesn’t love a pie?  Sweet or savory, when buttery crust is combined with delicious filling, something magical happens.  But, how ‘bout something more portable, freezeable, personal. Today on the Twist — Jam Jar Pies.

JJP Collage

Jam jars are normally used in canning, so they are made to be heat-resistant.  They serve as our twist on a nifty baking vessel for a classic pie. 4 ounces jars make for the perfect dessert size.

Here’s my video on how to make Jam Jar Pies!

Full recipe details are available here: Jam Jar Pies

Enjoy!

5 minute microwaved potato chips The Tamara Blog

I recently had family show up unexpectedly and I had nothing but a bottle of Prosecco in the fridge. While that’s a fine greeting, I needed a quick snack to add. I glanced in the pantry and spotted a potato. Presto! Potato chips and Prosecco. We have a snack!

Beautiful Gold Leafed Flutes DIY

I know what you’re thinking: This is not your ordinary pairing. But these ain’t no store-bought crisps! And as good as they are, they’re also great for game-day gatherings.

These chips are fast and, I’m telling you, FaH-bulous! Crunchy, easy, & YOU control all the ingredients. They’re not fried, so less fat, and because they’re made in batches, you have an easy way to control portion size. Crave just a few chips? Make some fresh in 5 minutes. And you won’t be tempted to eat the whole bag, like with store bought ones.

Microwave Potato Chips

  • 1 large Russet Potato
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper (optional)

Wash the potato and cut very thin, 1/8” or less. I like them 1/16″ and use a hand slicer or mandoline, but a sharp knife will also work.

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Place sliced potatoes in a single layer on a piece of parchment paper. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and brush the oil to cover each slice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (if using.)

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Place sheet in microwave, and cook on high for 3 to 5 minutes. Watch the chips, and remove when the desired amount of brownness is achieved. Parchment paper can be reused for several batches.

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Yield: 50 to 60 chips.

Take a bite, microwaved potato chips

Tips: try other flavors – garlic or seasoned salt, , or even vinegar or flavored olive oil. Go crazy!

5 Minute Microwaved Potato Chips

Click here for printable recipe for Microwave Potato Chips

Here are some of my other snacks that may be of interest for game-day gatherings.

Kale Chips

Baked Salami “Chips”

Salty Sweet Popcorn

Toffee Pretzels

Enjoy!

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.(Click here for a printable version of the Chocolate Nib Spoon Recipe.)

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

 

 

Click here for the printable Chocolate Nib Spoon Recipe.

Enjoy!

I make these almonds every year for Christmas gifts. And every time, have to make double/triple batches, because they inevitably get eaten before packaging. They’re easy, save well for a couple weeks, and are deeee lish, if I say so myself. Enjoy!

Rosemary Herbed Almonds

Rosemary Herbed Almonds

4 cups raw, whole almonds

4 Tbs. olive oil

1 Tbs. dried rosemary

1 Tbs. herbs de provence (if not available, substitute more rosemary)

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt

P1030233 Herbs

Crush the dried herbs with a mortar and pestle or use the back of a spoon.  Heat the olive oil in the microwave for 20 seconds, add crushed herbs and mix together.

P1030236 Almonds 1

Pour  the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet.  Add the herbed olive oil and stir until all the nuts are coated.  Spread the almonds in a single layer, and place in the oven at 325 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

I use two timers for this.  One I set at 25 minutes, the other for five.  I re-set the 5 minute timer each time I stir, and keep the 25 minute one, so I don’t lose track of the overall time.  After 25 minutes, taste an almond to see if it’s crunchy.  Don’t over cook the almonds.

P1030262 Almonds CU

When done, let cool, then add salt and stir.  Allow to cool for 1 hour before packaging. Keep stored in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.

P1030249 Pretzels and Almonds

My super talented pal, Cathe Holden made the label template, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it.

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I must say, this is one of the most delicious snacks ever. Salty and sweet, easy to make, it’s perfect for a party favor. It can be a little fancy but at the same time, familiar and homey. You can use any type of chocolate (milk, semi-sweet, etc.), and if you use white chocolate you can alter the color to fit the occasion. Make it in big batches for a crowd, (think football party) or small ones for movie-night.

Finished Popcorn BagsP1050191

You’ll Need:

Popcorn

Salt

Oil

White Chocolate (colored if you like)

Bags

Twine

Stickers

Let’s talk popcorn and quantities (there is a chart at the bottom of this post with measurement calculations). My target was 50 party favors. I figured that we needed 3 to 4 cups per person/favor. That meant 200 cups popped corn (!). I calculated that 1/3 C un-popped corn yields 8 C popped. So for my favors, we needed to pop 8 to 9 cups of corn. (Turns out that the bags looked better with 3 C popcorn inside, so … leftovers! More for ME!)

When I pop corn at home, I always measure by eye. I pour oil into my pan until it just covers the bottom of the pan. Add corn until the bottom is covered without any corn-overlap. (A good rule of thumb is, use half as much oil as popcorn. So for 2/3 C corn, use 1/3 C oil.) Turn the pan on medium-high, cover and wait for it to pop. As the kernels pop, give the pan a shake now and then. When you hear the kernel pops slow down, remove from heat and pour into mixing vessel. Don’t wait until you don’t hear ANY kernels popping… you’ll scorch the finished corn.

Melting White Chocolate P1050131

Chocolate. For this recipe, I prefer white chocolate, but milk or dark is tasty too. I wanted the finished product to be delicious sweet-salty corn, not like a candy with popcorn in it, so the chocolate was used sparingly. In the end, for my 200 cups of corn, I used about 1-1/2 pounds of chocolate.

Popcorn with Pink Chocolate P1050133

Pour your popcorn into a (very clean!) large mixing vessel. Add salt as desired. Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Drizzle onto popped corn and mix. If you have a helper, this job goes much more quickly! Taste, adjust chocolate and salt if needed.

Drizzled Pink PopcornP1050134

Mixed Pink PopcornP1050136

Using a scoop, fill the bags with corn, tie closed (with divine twine!) and add labels. I added the classic pink bubble-gum cigar to the bag.

Update: Looks like the supplier who carried my bags no longer does… try Nashville Wraps for some really cute bags, at good prices.

NOTE: This popcorn favor should be made no more than one day in advance. If it’s made earlier than that, it becomes a bit soggy.

Finished Popcorn BagsP1050197

Supply Calculation Table:

1/3 C un-popped corn = 8 C popped = 2 to 3 party favors

1 C un-popped corn = 24 C popped = 7 to 9 party favors

½ oz. chocolate per party favor. Test this – your desired taste may vary. (2 oz. = 1/4 C)

Some SUPER CUTE labels are available here. (Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Whisker Graphics, but also a relative!)

Enjoy!