About Julie Seyler

Julie Seyler is a foodaholic, writer, and author of the blog, TwoBitTart.com. A graduate of culinary school and an itinerant student of gelato, pastry, and, most recently, Italian pasta, she labels herself neither Chef nor expert, but a chronicler of culinary vice. Follow her on Instagram: @TwoBitTart.

Faux Pho Soup

Meaty beef short ribs and beef shank ensure a rich broth, the star of this Pho Soup. Simmering cinnamon and star anise ensure a wonderfully scented house.

A bowl of Pho Soup garnished with mint, cilantro and lime
…the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows.”
                                                         – Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem

No riot of color or chilling air, October’s subtlety in LA is lost to anyone not labeled “native.” Feigning Hollywood starlet ennui, tanned summer leaves serenely suicide from weary trees, “Too hot,” they lament, “I cannot stay a moment longer.” Stifling Santa Ana winds unfurl scents of burning sagebrush with feelings of prickly dread and stopped time. “Earthquake weather,” we proclaim. Porch lights flicker awake by 6:00 pm, lighting barefoot children pedaling bikes in dusty cul-de-sacs. LA quietly shifts into autumn, leaving paroxysms of sunset hues to the other coast.

Coincidentally, this soup popped up on my Facebook memories for today – I first made this recipe exactly seven years ago.


Faux Pho Soup

Meaty beef short ribs and beef shank ensure a rich broth in the Pho Soup. Simmering cinnamon and star anise ensure a wonderfully scented house.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
  • 1 ½ lbs. beef shank, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, smashed
  • 1 bunch scallions, white parts smashed and greens chopped and reserved
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • Fresh red chili or serrano chili, stemmed and halved
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 oz. dried flat Asian rice noodles
  • Mint sprigs, roughly torn
  • Cilantro leaves, roughly torn
  • Lime wedges
  • salt and white pepper

Directions

  1. Brown meat in batches in a large soup pot with a bit of oil. Set meat aside. Saute onion, ginger, white parts of scallions, garlic cloves, and chili until onion begins to brown.
  2. Add water, soy sauce, star anise, and cinnamon. Return meat and any accumulated juices to pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 ½ hours.
  3. Transfer meat to cutting board. Discard bones and membrane and shred meat into small pieces.
  4. Strain broth through a sieve lined with cheese cloth and skim fat. Add meat back into broth and season with salt and white pepper.
  5. Meanwhile, cook rice noodles according to package directions. Place noodles in individual bowls, add scallion greens, torn mint springs and torn cilantro leaves. Ladle hot soup over noodles and finish with a squeeze of lime juice.

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Moroccan Berber Soup

This highly-flavored soup relies on an exotic mix of spices to provide its complex flavor.

A bowl of Moroccan Berber Soup

Last Monday, she was surprised to discover a long weekend punctuating the end of her week. Her weekend plans were already set – big plans – plans to simmer soups and trim gangly backyard bushes; plans to kick her blogging back in gear and plans for uninterrupted hours of reading. Plans to nest and regroup, really. Once she realized the calendar was gifting her today as a bonus (Columbus Day, really?), her mind turned instead to great escapes, her grand plans easily slipping away – the simmering, the trimming, the blogging, the nesting. Her mind has been on a roller coaster of late and, even more than her kitchen, miles of asphalt between her and her problems pacify troubled thoughts. Her first idea was a hotel and mineral springs nestled in an oasis of desert palms about 90 minutes from home – tranquility and a lobotomy brought to you by three days of pruney soaks. Sadly, her budget and their rates did not align. Her next solution, further afield, was a rustic riverside cabin sheltered within a shaded grove of pines. Sold out. Disheartened, she resigned herself to stay home, with soup and bushes and blog and books, wishing to be somewhere else entirely.

Flashing back to 2009, I developed this Moroccan-inspired soup as part of my culinary school final. Unique spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric result in an exotically complex flavor that won over Chef as well as the other students.


Moroccan Berber Soup

This highly-flavored soup relies on an exotic mix of spices to provide its complex flavor.


Ingredients

  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 28 oz. whole canned San Marzano tomatoes with juice, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 7 oz. fideo pasta (found in Hispanic section of well-stocked markets) or capellini
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • Plain yogurt, for garish

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, sauté onion, celery and carrot in a bit of oil until softened. Add the ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper and sauté until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes with juice and chicken stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until carrot is soft.
  2. Add fideo pasta and simmer for 10 minutes. Add cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with plain yogurt and serve.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Tart

I’ve been enjoying more than my fair share of ice cream these last few scorching days of summer – I’m up to a 3-scoop per week habit.  Some of the goodness I’ve recently been devouring inspired the flavors in this tart – chocolate, peanut butter, and salted caramel (oh my!).

A chocolate peanut butter salted caramel tart with a slice missing

“Are you a Pastry Chef?”

A simple question, and one I’ve been faced with before, yet the usual self-effacing, rambling answer once again tumbles from my lips…

“No, not really. I make my living as an event planner, although I am, technically, a classically trained, non-practicing chef…but not a pastry chef. Pastry is my passion, but I’ve never gone to Pastry School, although I’d like to eventually. Baking is a hobby.” Ramble, ramble, ramble.

Why is it so difficult for me to acknowledge my merit, embrace my abilities and just answer, “Yes. Yes I am.”

And here, my friend, is the proof.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Tart

  • Servings: One 9-inch Tart
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A silky combination of dark chocolate, peanuts, and buttery salted caramel.


Ingredients

  • 10-oz package shortbread cookies, such as Lorna Doone
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup salted butter caramel, plus more for garnish (I use David Lebovitz’s version)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, at least 60% cocoa, chopped
  • ⅓ cup (rounded) peanut butter (not natural peanut butter, which will separate)
  • ½ cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • Sweetened whipped cream, for garnish

Directions

  1. Make shortbread crust: Preheat oven to 350 F. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse shortbread cookies and salt into crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until mixture resembles wet sand. Press crumbs along bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Cool.
  2. Make filling: In a medium saucepan, bring heavy whipping cream and salted butter caramel to simmer – don’t boil. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and then slowly whisk cream mixture into yolks, tempering to avoid curdling eggs. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until temperature registers 170 degrees. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and then peanut butter until melted.
  3. Sprinkle cooled crust with roasted salted peanuts. Pour filling through a sieve over peanuts. Chill, uncovered, until set, at least 2 hours. Garnish with sweetened whipped cream, drizzled caramel and peanuts. Chill until ready to serve.

Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.

Tiramisu Cake dotted with Amaretti cookies

“Piano, piano,” Chef John cautioned me. This was my first Italian term I learned that did not come from my Rosetta Stone education. The English translation of the reproach “Piano, piano” would be “slowly.” How appropriate that I would encounter this first! It was during gelato school and I’m certain I wanted to know something that Chef John wasn’t ready to reveal. I wanted to push ahead, I wanted to understand. Label me impatient – you wouldn’t be incorrect. I always need to move forward, never happy with the in-between, never satisfied in the moment. STOP: That’s not true – I am often contented just being. CORRECTION: I’m not satisfied in the undefined moment – I’m not comfortable with vagueness. I want to know, I want to understand, I want mastery of my situation. It’s difficult for me to thrive in uncertainty. I’ve recently been reminded once again that others don’t always want to play along at my pace – and I need to learn to be comfortable with that. “Piano, piano,” I tell myself over and over again.

I’m thinking of Italy today because this cake was inspired by Beth’s upcoming tour of the booted country. She hosted an Italian “festa” for her birthday in preparation for her travels and I supplied the desserts, this cake being one of them. The idea was to combine pillowy tiramisu with a proper birthday cake. I chose my favorite chocolate cake for her husband, who claims he loves everything chocolate, soaked the sponge in Disaronno Italian liquor instead of the requisite tiramisu soaking liquid of marsala and espresso, generously layered it with a fluffy whipped mascarpone frosting and finished it with Amaretti cookies. The result is a rich, impressive, not overly sweet 4-layer cake that’s an ideal send off for anyone traveling on a trip of a lifetime.


Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Filling
  • ⅓ cup almond liqueur such as Disaronno
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese
  • 1 ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ⅔ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Amaretti Cookies (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups almond flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar, plus ½ cup for coating
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg white, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line two 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Combine water, oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Slice each cake in half horizontally to make 4 even layers.
  4. Combine the liqueur and extract in a shallow dish. Set aside.
  5. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting. Beat in the almond extract.
  6. Brush the bottom layer of cake with almond liqueur mixture, spread with frosting and top with another layer. Keep layering the cake and frosting and then frost the top and sides of cake. Decorate with Amaretti cookies (optional).
  7. If you are making the amaretti cookies, combine the almond flour, sugars, and salt. Add the egg white and almond extract until the dough holds together. Shape into a thin disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325⁰ F. and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  8. Roll the dough into 9-11 gram balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar and place on the baking sheet. Gently press down each ball to flatten slightly. Bake for about 20 minutes until they’ve cracked slightly, are golden under the sugar, but are still slightly soft when pressed in the middle. Decorate cake with cookies.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Peanut butter sandwiched between cookies

I’ve been attempting to write this post since this morning. Countless pressing matters have thwarted my endeavors, like the necessity, earlier today, to make a batch of spiced apple butter. Right. That. Minute. Then, of course, it was essential to take a five and a half mile walk, go to Trader Joe’s, and wash a load of laundry. As I grudgingly sit in front of this screen, finally, a million projects swirl through my brain, to-do items that are more critical and more urgent that this post, but I force myself to write.

If I’m completely honest, this post has been languishing in the “unfinished” file since June…June 29th, to be exact.

Despite my excuses, I realize it has nothing to do with being too busy, all these supposed pressing matters, or not having time to arrange 250 words into something coherent. It has everything to do with Fear – fear that I have nothing worthwhile to say, fear that I won’t find the words, fear that my words won’t be good enough. “You dare call yourself a writer,” my inner critic chimes in.

The baking has always been the easier part for me. Not that I don’t utterly fail at that endeavor on occasion, not that I don’t pick apart every dish I produce, not that I don’t make apologies to the recipients – I do, I DO, but without the paralyzing fear that grips my writing attempts. I accept culinary failure and move on.

I wrote a marketing piece for work this week. It’s not my day-to-day job, but a new role I’m taking on. I was petrified inspiration wouldn’t hit, terrified I would bumble my big chance. I wrote, I played on the page, I didn’t permit fear to hinder me (once I started) – and my audience loved it. The kudos made my week.

However, the baking side of it, like the recipe below, will always be easier.


Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

  • Servings: 24 cookies
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Ingredients

    Cookies
  • 1 ½ cups old-fashion rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon (rounded) kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • Filling
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 Tablespoon corn syrup
  • ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. In the bowl of food processor, pulse oats until the texture of meal. Add flour, sugar, baking soda and salt and process to combine. Add very cold butter and pulse until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add milk and process until dough just begins to come together. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. Roll into 1” balls and transfer to baking sheets. Press balls flat with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Refrigerate again for 10 minutes.
  4. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes until the edges are just beginning to turn golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Beat together peanut butter, corn syrup and confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Pipe on ½ cookies and top with remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container.