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.

Chocolate Chip Almond Cannoli

Today’s Musings: 
Behind my home,  in the backyard,  sits a small 14×10 foot back house. It’s been under my care for years and, during that time, has retained various names and uses: lean-to, shed, taco stand, guest house, photography studio, and, very recently, writer’s retreat. During the pandemic, I’ve fallen smitten with this tiny space, my private, sunlit sanctuary that offers a break from the suffocating four walls of this past year, providing an entirely different perspective without disobeying CDC orders.

Each weekend (and sometimes weekday evenings), I bound out the back door, skip along the winding flagstone path and turn the handle to this tranquil refuge overlooking the garden and well-frequented birdbath, providing me both the physical and mental space to write. I’ve become so enamored by my little hut of heaven that I’ve taken to sharing photos on social media. One of my friends, Oscie, recently commented that I “have and amazing life” to which I responded, “We ALL have an amazing life,  it’s just a matter of being grateful for the good bits and leaving the rest behind.”  Pollyanna I am not, yet I stand behind this statement. I’ve built a good life for myself and I’m grateful for many parts of it – a house I own, an amazing tribe of friends,  a secure job with leaders I respect, a knack for baking, a passion for writing, a blog that combines the two, a healthy body, a family so far unscathed by the pandemic – all  things I’m aware could change in an instant.

Yet, my life is far from perfect.  I could just as easily focus on the bad bits.  My extra time I’ve carved out for writing resulted from reduced work hours due to COVID, meaning a less stable career and less income. My snug little cottage of calm – and my house – are inhabited by pesky destructive termites,  something I’ll need to address sooner rather than later.  The verdant, wildlife-filled garden outside my window grows unruly with weeds from the recent rains, a day long project in itself.

I have a choice – we all have a choice – to focus on this life-altering pandemic, the people and things not in our lives, and our never-ending to-do lists…or we can delight in the good bits. For me, I’m choosing the latter.

The Retreat

Today’s Recipe:
Speaking of good bits,  I wanted to share this additional cannoli recipe that came out of my recent Holy Cannoli Dessert Duo.  This is the more traditional of the two.  The tart springtime lemon raspberry version can be found here


Chocolate Chip Almond Cannoli

Shaved chocolate, candied almonds, and just a hint of cinnamon recall traditional cannoli recipes, but this version is a step up – cannoli for those who don’t like cannoli.


Ingredients

    Cannoli Shells
  • 12 cannoli shells
  • 6 oz. milk chocolate
  • 3 oz. candied almonds, finely chopped (I used sliced honey roasted almonds from Trader Joe’s)
  • Filling
  • 10 oz. whole-milk ricotta, drained in a mesh sieve overnight
  • 8 oz. mascarpone
  • ⅓ cup superfine sugar
  • 1 ¼ cups milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions

  1. Prepare the shells: Melt the 6 oz. chocolate in the microwave by heating it at 30 second intervals and stirring until melted (about 90 seconds total). Dip both ends of cannoli shells in chocolate then in the candied almonds. Cool to set.
  2. Fill the shells: Stir together ricotta, mascarpone, and sugar. Add the milk chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and combine. Let rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to allow sugar time to melt. Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with filling. Pipe the filling into both ends of the cannoli, filling completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Today’s Tip:
I used a food processor to make quick work of finely chopping the chocolate.

Lemon Raspberry Cannoli

Today’s Musings:
If there is such a thing as a project saturation point, I’ve attained it.  I’ve always had a handful of projects that I attempt to juggle – one of the most time-consuming being this blog.  Creating a blog post begins with writing a recipe idea, followed by kitchen testing.  No small task, the ‘standard’ for food bloggers is to test a recipe seven times before posting.  I don’t have that luxury of time – nor the budget for all those ingredients.  With a full work schedule, and a life outside of posting, the most I’ve ever tested was four or five times, on recipes that often never make it to prime time.  For every posted recipe, there are one to two that never make the cut.  A friend joked the other day, “What does it matter if the recipe is any good? No one cares anyway.”  Fuck that – I care.  If someone tries one of my recipes, I want it to work – and that’s what matters.   After kitchen testing, there’s the photography and editing, the writing, the posting, and finally the promoting on aggregators and food sharing sites.  If I’m posting twice a week, I’m blissfully happy…and most likely on vacation. 

If you’ve noticed I haven’t posted lately, that’s because I’ve managed to make this particular project an even more elusive goal. Amidst blogging and my other projects, I’ve decided the world needs yet another cookbook memoir – and it’s more work than I ever imagined.  At roughly 200 pages, I haven’t even begun developing the recipes.  The old adage, “writing is rewriting,” is true.  I edit a little, hate what I’ve written, move on to another section in the book, hit upon new paragraphs or new chapters while in the shower or driving, write some more, edit, set it down, pick it up.  And this process has just begun. 

I cannot take credit for this – I have two good friends to thank.  Feeling like my COVID time has been squandered in relative isolation, I’ve been desperately searching for a project – any project – to convince myself I’m being productive.  And, no, binge-watching an entire season of Peaky Blinders is not productivity.  Dozens of people have suggested I write a cookbook over the years, but I could never settle on the correct focus, or hook.  These two friends hit upon my unfortunate expertise – comfort food for soothing heartache.  The title is still in the works, so I’ll keep quiet on that point for now. 

Accordingly, my free time, on the nights I convince myself I have something to say worth reading, has been spent in my ‘writer’s studio,’ picking through my own past loves and losses.  It’s been cathartic, eye opening (patterns! patterns! patterns!), frustrating, and gut wrenching.  After four hours with the manuscript, tacking on another hour writing this blog is daunting.  I usually have nothing left.  Have I bitten off more than I can chew?  Maybe, but it’s given my COVID time purpose, something I sorely needed for my sanity. 

 Today’s Recipe:
I developed two different flavors of cannoli for a friend’s birthday this weekend.  Receiving good reviews on both, this mouth puckering lemon-raspberry version was crowned the crowd favorite, although the birthday boy liked the other better. 


LEMON RASPBERRY CANNOLI

Springtime Cannoli - tart lemon and raspberry filling come together to make your mouth celebrate the season in this Italian ode to spring.


Ingredients

    Raspberry Jam
  • 6 oz. frozen raspberries
  • 6 oz. superfine sugar
  • Cannoli Shells
  • 12 cannoli shells
  • 6 oz. milk chocolate
  • 3 oz. freeze-dried raspberries, finely ground
  • Filling
  • 10 oz. whole-milk ricotta, drained in a mesh sieve overnight
  • 8 oz. mascarpone
  • 4 oz. lemon curd
  • 2 oz. superfine sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • pinch salt
  • powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions

  1. Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4-6 minutes until thick. Remove from the heat and leave to cool and set.
  2. Prepare the shells: Melt the chocolate in the microwave by heating it at 30 second intervals and stirring until melted (about 90 seconds total). Dip both ends of cannoli shells in chocolate then in the freeze-dried raspberries. Cool to set.
  3. Fill the shells: Stir together ricotta, mascarpone, lemon curd, sugar, zest, and salt. Let rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to allow sugar time to melt. Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with filling. With a small spoon or knife, spread a little raspberry jam inside each shell. Pipe the filling into both ends of the cannoli, filling completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Tomato Focaccia

A tomato focaccia sandwich on a square green plate

Today’s Musings:
It’s 5:00 a.m. and I am wide awake.  Yesterday morning, I made myself espresso, but forgot to put a cup under the spout.  I’m exhausted.  I went to bed yawning and woke up yawning.  Insomnia sucks.  I’ve always been a good sleeper, a light one, but a good sleeper.  Nine hours is my sweet spot; I usually managed eight during the week.  Now, I’m lucky if I get four.  It began around the start of the pandemic.   I’m sure others can relate.  I’ve been prescribed a drug for it – Klonopin.  Klonopin has been a friend, ensuring I sleep through the night and wake well rested.  It’s also highly addictive.  You can easily build up a tolerance to Klonopin, as well. Dependency can also be a problem.  My doctor was worried about the tolerance, meaning I would need more for the same effect.  I was concerned about the addiction.  So, a few weeks ago, we decided it was time to say goodbye to Klonopin.  The insomnia returned.  Nothing seems to help.  I’ve taken long hikes early in the day in hopes of tiring myself out; I’ve drawn myself a warm bath just before bed; I’ve taken melatonin; I’ve tried meditation; I’ve avoided “blue light” an hour before bed; I’ve basked in more sunlight during the day; I’ve tried warm milk, blackout drapes, and a cold room.   Band-Aides, at best.  My doctor and my concerns missed the target – it was the dependency that got me.  I received another drug to take its place.  That lasted two nights.  It made the insomnia worse – revealing creative, stunning, intense images whenever I closed my eyes – really cool stuff.  I was so entranced by the art, I couldn’t sleep.   If I was an artist and could sketch what I saw, I’d be all over this drug.  I’m not.   

New tactic.  I’ve decided to taper off the Klonopin slowly.  Cold turkey was too much.  This week, I’m trying half.  Next week, it’ll be a quarter.  The week after, melatonin instead and the week after that, nothing.  We’ll see if that gets me back to my nine hours, light but good, sleep. 

Today’s Recipe:
This is what you do when you have 25 lbs. of “00” flour that close to its expiration date.


TOMATO FOCACCIA

The focaccia is fluffier than most, almost cake-like. I enjoy it drizzled with a bit of truffle oil or as a bread for sandwiches.


Ingredients

  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup warm water (105-107°F)
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (divided)
  • 4 ¼ cups “00” flour
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ lb. of the best tomatoes you can find (I used heirloom)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Directions

  1. Cover potato with salted cold water in a small saucepan, bring up to heat, and simmer until a knife pierces the potato easily, 10-15 minutes. Drain, cool slightly, and mash until smooth.
  2. In a glass measuring cup, combine warm water and sugar. Sprinkle yeast over water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine potato and ¼ cup oil. Add yeast mixture and beat with paddle attachment at medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Remove paddle attachment and attach a dough hook. add flour and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Mix on medium speed until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and is smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes (dough will be soft and sticky).
  4. Scrape dough into a lightly oiled large bowl and cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 2-2 ½ hours. Generously oil a 12 x 16” baking sheet.
  5. Punch down dough (do not knead) and transfer to baking sheet, then gently stretch to cover the entire baking sheet, side to side, corner to corner.
  6. Cover dough with oiled plastic wrap or a proofing bag and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1-1 ½ hours. You’ll know the dough is ready when you gently poke the dough and it slowly springs back.
  7. Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in lower third. Arrange tomatoes on focaccia (do not overlap), then sprinkle with fresh rosemary and flaky sea salt; drizzle with remaining ¼ cup oil.
  8. Bake until center is firm, top is pale golden, and underside is golden (lift to check), 20 to 25 minutes.
  9. Loosen focaccia from pan with a spatula and slide onto a rack to cool slightly. Cut into pieces and serve warm or at room temperature.

Adapted from Epicurious

Tomato Focaccia on a cutting board with a few slices taken out

Baked Cassetelle

Cassatelle cooling on a wire rack

“Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.” – Dawson Trotman

Today’s Musings:
Without a particular game plan in mind, Two-Bit Tart has molded itself into a mash-up of half personal essay (aka Musings) and half food blog.  It has taken me an exceptionally long time to arrive here, but this blog is now unmistakably my own with its singular, quirky, yet clear direction.  This began as a personal essay blog, morphed into a food blog, and has finally, after almost 13 years, unapologetically matured into a blending of both.  My challenge with the personal essay section is that it’s an intense delving into the recesses of my most intimate thoughts and feelings. Nothing is off limits from examination, holding these bits of my life up to the light for anyone to see.   While I feel reasonably comfortable splaying myself in front of you, many of my stories involve others, as most personal stories do. Today, I’m experiencing a smattering of remorse and hesitation in exposing others’ secrets without permission, desiring to keep their story, tightly intertwined with mine, a compact between us.  I am passionately steadfast and loyal to those who reciprocate, even those long dead. I’ve been working on a piece the last five days that I would describe as raw, honest, authentic. 1817 words with all the beastly details. How, I wonder, can I speak my truth while protecting others’ privacy?  I have no wish to cause pain or embarrassment to those around me; just a desire to share my story. I’ve been reading Joan Dideon lately – The White Album.  She deftly manages that delicate dance between stark, personal exposure and others’ privacy.  I’m no Joan Dideon, but I’m taking mental notes.  What is off-limits?  Who is off-limits? Living family members?  Current friends? Current lovers?  How terrible that someone would eschew me for fear their secrets are exposed.  Who becomes fair game?  Strangers and mere acquaintances? One-date wonders?  Dead boyfriends?  Those who have injured me by accident?  On purpose?  I strive to behave better than my enemies and have a clear moral compass – but in my quest for self-discovery, have I forgotten that, if only for a post or two?  I’ve decided not to share the piece I’ve been fervently writing.  I’m pleased with it – my own missteps and failings exposed and acknowledged.  Hours of work that will never come to fruition, but it’s the correct decision, this time.  It’s my truth, but tugs too many others too far into the light, regardless of their own culpability.  Today, I am setting down rules – otherwise, I will too easily cross the line. 

Today’s Recipe:


Baked Cassetelle

These cassetelle are baked rather than fried and are best eaten warm, when the chocolate is melty, the ricotta velvety and the pastry crisp and tender. I pop them in a oven for a few minutes to heat them through before enjoying with a steaming cup of coffee.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, very cold
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
  • 1 cup full-fat ricotta, drained overnight
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ cup mini chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup candied orange peel, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon grated orange zest)

Directions

  1. In the bowl of food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt. Add very cold butter and pulse until butter is well dispersed. Add egg and yolk and pulse until dough begins to clump together. Scrape dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press together to form a disk. Wrap plastic wrap around dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine drained ricotta, powdered sugar, chocolate chips and candied peel. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Cut dough in half, keeping one half refrigerated and roll out the other half to about ⅛” – ⅙” thick between two pieces of parchment or waxed paper. Cut out twelve 3” rounds. Dollop a generous teaspoon of ricotta mixture on one side of each round, fold other side of dough over, making a half-moon shape, being careful to enclose the filling completely. Seal edges with the tines of a fork. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  4. Repeat the process with the remaining ½ dough. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350⁰ F.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes until cassetelle are golden along the edges and underneath. Cool slightly and dust with powdered sugar. Enjoy the same day and refrigerate any remaining cassetelle (due to the ricotta filling). If refrigerated, reheat in the oven a few minutes before enjoying.

Pizza Margherita

A pizza margherita with a slice taken out

Today’s Musings:
When you press the “start” button, you expect electronics to…start.  So, when something doesn’t, like your computer, it can be unsettling.  At first, you don’t panic. You check the cords and the outlet. You remove the battery, wait ten seconds, replace it, press the “start” button again and nothing happens – at all.  Frustrated at this point, you try pressing the “on” button multiple times (although this tactic never works) then try holding the button down, yet you are still met with a black screen – not a blue screen of death, not a beep, not a whir. Nothing.  Now, you are frightened.

You know you should backup your files on a regular basis.  You know your laptop has been unreliable in recent months, and yet you just assume it’ll turn on nightly, as needed.  You’ve been contemplating buying a new one (an expense you don’t really need right now), and rue the realization that you should have spent the dough (cost be damned!).  You envision the hundreds of food photos saved only there and the photos of you with family and friends, long dead.  You recall your resume and the retirement documents you worked on diligently and saved nowhere else.  You are acutely aware of the hours your fingers have massaged the keyboard this past month –  first finishing a 60-page memoir on love that hadn’t been touched in 11 years and, more recently, the beginnings of a book and the 16,000 words you have typed already – and you thank providence that you at least backed up both on a jump drive last week – only some of the work will be lost.  You think about the list of book club selections for 2021 only saved on the desktop and multiple half-finished blog posts and recipes that are irretrievable.  You feel sick.

You hope it’s merely the AC adaptor, order a new one, and deflate when you see it’s not scheduled to arrive for 12 days.  Can you wait 12 days?  If not the adaptor, the next step is the computer hospital, but they weren’t much help on the last visit, just a few weeks ago.  You had plans to write this weekend.  It’s rainy, it’s cold, and your plans for the day included a log in the fireplace, candles scattered on your desk, a sleeping kitty on your lap and words, words, word.  You try to remain calm; you adjust your weekend plans for more time in the kitchen.  If not writing memoirs, then perfecting recipes it is.

You promise yourself that if you can, just one last time, retrieve your files, you’ll buy that new laptop immediately.  You write all these thoughts out longhand – your hopes, your frustrations, your disappointments, your fears, and realize you just need to put your panic aside and move forward.  12 days cannot come soon enough.

(Update:  The AC adaptor did the trick – sort of – it still took me five tries to boot up.  I need a new laptop – and a backup drive – today. )

Today’s Recipe:
With unexpected kitchen time on my hands, and a 25-lbs. bag of “OO” flour reaching its expiration date, I decided to try my hand at a simple Pizza Margherita.  Many of you probably have a pizza stone – I don’t buy a lot of kitchen gadgets, including a pizza stone, so I don’t mention one here, but if you have one, please feel free to use it – it’s only going to help.


PIZZA MARGHERITA

  • Servings: One 14” Pizza
  • Print

The perfect pizza margherita is crisp along the outside and, when you cut a slice, the tip just slightly dips down.


Ingredients

  • ¾ cup water, 105⁰ – 110⁰
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1 ¾ cups “OO” flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 14-oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, chopped*
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼” slices
  • 6-10 fresh basil leaves, torn if large

Directions

  1. In a liquid measuring cup, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and set aside for about 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine yeast mixture, 1¼ cups flour, salt, and olive oil. Mix ingredients on low until fully combined. Add additional flour until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. On medium-low, knead the dough until smooth, soft and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Form into a ball, place into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap in a warm draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cook garlic in a little oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juice and tomato paste. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  4. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 500⁰ F. Scrape dough onto a large piece of lightly-floured parchment. Pat, stretch, or roll dough into a 14” circle on parchment.
  5. Spread sauce over dough, leaving a 1” border. Arrange cheese on top, leaving a 2” border (cheese bubbles and spreads). Slide pizza on parchment onto preheated baking sheet. Bake until pizza is crisp and golden and cheese is bubbling and browning in spots, about 15 minutes. With a spatula, look underneath the pizza to ensure it is well browned. Transfer pizza to cutting board, cool 5 minutes, sprinkle with basil leaves, slice and serve.

* You may be tempted to pick up a can of diced tomatoes to save yourself the work.  I don’t recommend it. Diced tomatoes contain calcium chloride, which means they won’t break down like regular tomatoes.  They’ll retain their bite and shape even when cooked and we are not looking for a chunky tomato sauce.