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.

Bergziegenkeks (Mountain Goat Cookies)

A white plate of Mountain Goat cookies with a sprig of lavender

Today’s Musings:
What do you do when you find yourself with an extra 20 minutes to spare?  Work out?  Go for a walk?  Scroll Facebook?  For me,  the obsessive baker, an extra 20 minutes usually results in throwing together the ingredients for a small batch of cookies, devoured that same day, regrettably often in one sitting.  The kitchen is my nirvana.  Sometimes I wonder why 75% of my home exists.  Nestle my bed next to the stove and I could happily reside in my kitchen (it would save on heating bills, too).  These simple cookie recipes are usually quick experiments inspired by whatever ingredients I happen to have on hand; nothing serious, nothing special, nothing blog-worthy, just a quick baked-good fix for my ever-present sweet tooth.

The other night,  while waiting for Mr. M to arrive for dinner,  I found myself with just such a pocket of time.  With no dessert planned, and spying a bag of almond meal on the counter, I quickly whipped up these cookies, rationalizing that these humble treats would be better than nothing, even if they weren’t up to my usual baking standards.  I was astonished when Mr. M said they were practically  “the perfect cookie” – not too sweet, loaded with spices, not overly rich, crispy on the outside with a tender interior.  He even claimed they were a contender to my sister’s buttery, crumbly, oatmeal flips,  my all-time favorite cookie.  High praise, indeed. 

An added bonus – the ingredients, on the whole, aren’t overly decadent…no butter, milk, yolk, or flour.  In honor of Mr. M,  I’m sharing this throw-together recipe that ended up being my first hit of 2022.

Today’s Recipe:


Bergziegenkeks (Mountain Goat Cookies)

  • Servings: A dozen cookies
  • Print

These spicy cookies are not overly sweet, crispy on the outside with a tender interior, and come together in a jiffy.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond meal or almond flour*
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon allspice
  • Generous pinch white pepper
  • Pinch salt
  • Powdered sugar (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and stir well until fully combined. Measure and roll into 12 equal balls (about 15-16 grams each). Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet. Slightly flatten each cookie with your fingers.
  2. Bake for about 1 7 minutes or until tops are firm and a few cookies are just barely browning around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheet. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar (if using).

*Typically, almond meal is made from unblanched almonds while almond flour is made from blanched almonds. Either will work in this recipe.  If you use almond flour, expect a lighter colored, more delicate looking cookie. 

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Vegan Lasagna

A pan of vegan lasagna with a pice taken out

Today’s Musings:
At first glance, 2021 appeared to be a 7” version of 2020, the single (kudos to anyone who is old enough to understand that reference). And that distills down to a tale of opposition – heated, angry, fractious opposition…fact/science/proof/experts vs. anecdotal evidence/conspiracy theories/personal (internet) research. When I think of a personification of America today, an image of “Bison Guy” from the Capitol mob attack, rather than Uncle Sam, springs to mind. Our collective New Year’s Eve was again spent in isolation (thanks Delta), anti-vaxxers still refuse to get vaxxed, Global warming continues its march as glaciers melt, fires burn and wildlife suffers – starving, homeless, and unable to escape inevitable extinction. In Texas and other states, old white men still insist on regulating my body. Black men continue to get killed for minor or non-existent infractions of the law.

And yet, for me, 2021 provided me with a clearer focus of who I am and where I’m striving to go. A major shift, 2021 was about GROWTH. I started the year by finding my voice – my loud, outdoor, “I matter” voice – as I recounted my uncensored personal struggle to survive the aftermath of a toxic relationship. I felt ill as I hit the “publish” button each day, afraid of the repercussions, emotional and potentially physical, yet forged ahead irrespective of my fear, buoyed by friends, fellow victims and a therapist. I burned a few bridges in the process, telling my truth – what happened to me and my subsequent healing. If others were incensed by my brash decision to speak out, that’s their burden.  Overall, however, the response was overwhelmingly positive – counselors, educators, and victims thanked me for sharing my experience and assured me my words matter.  

That farce of a relationship compelled me to take a stark look at my own culpability. I chose to pursue him,  to not ask questions, to ignore the red flags which, in hindsight, waved furiously in front of my eyes throughout my time with him. Life doesn’t allow do-overs. I couldn’t return to the time before, start over, make better choices, but I could sure as hell ensure it never happened again. So, using this specific tragic coupling along with other previous disastrous relationships as guides, I created a list of eight must-have, line-in-the-sand characteristics the next man would possess. No longer would I be blinded and distracted by charm, superficialities, or the dark, damaged men I inexplicably find so appealing. I created a roadmap for the type of love I deserve.

In addition to romantic love, 2021 offered fertile ground for nascent buds of new female friendships to bloom and grow as well. A few years ago, I developed an inkling that my inner-circle, my sounding-boards, my confidants, didn’t always have my best interests in mind or, when they did, didn’t fully understand my perspective. Taking the quote, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you,” to heart, I began developing friendships with an expanded circle of women who shared my lifestyle, goals and perspective; women who built each other up instead of competing; women who were smart and funny and lived full lives. I’ve enjoyed connecting with this new pussy-posse, building friendships, and supporting them as much, I hope, as they’ve supported me. Two of these fabulous women, in fact, encouraged me to write the cookbook I began in March, a humongous exercise in personal growth.

The recipe below is an additional testament to my 2021 evolution. This time last year, I was baking up Gourmet S’mores and Rocky Road Pie, while my kitchen staples amounted to whole milk, whipping cream, butter blocks, eggs, and cheese wedges. Then, in July, I met Mr. M. – a vegan (gasp!). Food avoidance is ordinarily a deal-breaker in my book, and vegans…well, vegans, no matter their laudable motives, are culinary self-flagellators and should be avoided. Yet, before I closed the door on us permanently, I perused my new “must have, line-in-the-sand” list referenced above and also pinned prominently on my bulletin board. I scanned the list for mention of dietary restrictions and found none. This culinary quirk was obviously not as important as I thought. So, I gave us a chance, with happy results. Shortly after we became a couple, my annual blood test showed alarmingly high cholesterol levels (see previous list of kitchen  staples – is  it any wonder?!) prompting a choice – statins or a diet overhaul. I chose the latter – while not vegan or even vegetarian, the beginning of 2022 finds me with a refrigerator full of vegetables, “plant based” bacon, creamer, mozzarella, pepperoni, and butter – and a 13 x 9 inch pan filled with the remnants of our New Year’s Eve dinner – my version of vegan lasagna. Growth, indeed.

Happy New Year!

 Today’s Recipe:


Vegan Lasagna

Layers of vegetables and plant-based ricotta result in surprisingly satisfying Italian comfort food – you won’t miss the meat. It tastes even better the next day, after the flavors have had time to meld.


Ingredients

    Lasagna
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
  • 10 oz. package sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 oz. package baby spinach
  • 12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 24 oz. jar tomato basil marinara sauce
  • 12 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 16 oz. vegan ricotta, divided in half
  • 4 oz. vegan parmesan, divided in thirds
  • Bechamel
  • 2 Tablespoons vegan butter
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup oat milk
  • pinch nutmeg

Directions

  1. Make Lasagna: In a large pan, sauté onion and red bell pepper in olive oil until beginning to soften. Add cremini mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms have released their juices and onions are beginning to brown. Add garlic and baby spinach and sauté until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat, stir in artichoke hearts and approximately ½ cup marinara sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Cover bottom of a 13” x 9” pan with about ¼ cup marinara sauce. Dip lasagna noodles in additional sauce and cover bottom of pan with one layer of noodles. Spread ½ of vegetable filling over noodles. Cover noodles with half the ricotta and a third of the parmesan. Continue with another layer of marinara dipped noodles, vegetable filling, ricotta and parmesan. Cover parmesan with one more layer of marinara dipped noodles – you should have 3 layers of noodles, and two layers of vegetables and ricotta.
  3. Make Bechamel: Melt butter in a small sauce pan. Add flour and whisk until thoroughly combined. Continue whisking for another minute, but do not let the “roux” brown. Add milk and bring to a simmer. Cook bechamel until it resembles a thin pancake batter. Remove from heat and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour bechamel over lasagna and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Cover with foil and let lasagna rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow noodles to soften.
  4. Preheat oven to 375° F. Bake lasagna, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until lasagna is bubbly and edges are beginning to crisp. Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes to ensure it slices cleanly when cut.

Italian Hot Chocolate – Cioccolata Calda

A mug of Italian hot chocolate with freshly whipped cream

TODAY’S MUSINGS:
Yes,  I know, it’s been ages since you’ve heard from me, but I have a legitimate reason for the silence and, no, my “reason” isn’t that I’ve been lazy.  If you are reading this post for illumination on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing these past three months,  I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m saving that story for another day.  Stay tuned.

Today,  you’ll find me sitting at a dining room table, swaddled in a bright orange down comforter in a chilly, yet cozy cabin just off the main road in Angels Camp, CA.  Outside my window, sun-spattered rolling golden hills dotted with majestic live oaks belie the chilly temperatures outside my door.  Yesterday, an unexpected “bomb cyclone” made for a grey, cold and wet day  – and fevered conversations about hot chocolate steaming away on the camp stove.

Let’s face it,  American hot chocolate is insipid at best – lackluster, brown-colored Swiss Miss® water at its worst.  We are not celebrated for our chocolate beverage prowess in the States.  The Spanish, with their thick chocolate and churros, are world-renowned for their rich, dark, dippable rather than drinkable, chocolate and they stand proudly at the apex of the hot chocolate pyramid of deliciousness.  Not far behind them are the French and their “chocolat chaud,” The rich beverage available for sipping on chilly Parisian streets.  Christmas mornings, my sister combines copious quantities of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate cocoa powder,  a smidge of sugar, and an equal ratio of whole milk to heavy whipping cream in an effort to recall her memories of the decadent beverage sipped in the City of Lights. Her final result?  Satisfying, but not quite mind-blowing.  I must admit, however, until last night,  I was entirely in the dark when it came to Cioccolata Calda, Italy’s version of the drink.  I’ve been fortunate to visit Italy and, during my travels, study, as well as indulge in, its cuisine.  Accordingly,  I’m familiar with Italian espresso, various wines and their regions, amaro, limoncello, nocino, grappa, and the early evening Aperol spritz, leaving nary any room for something as seemingly innocuous as hot chocolate.  Oh, what have I been missing?!

Last night, with my first (scalding) sip,  my hot chocolate world expanded. I could use poetic words like “decadent,” “rich,” “silky,” and “fudgy” to describe this ganache in a mug,  but today I’ve decided to be straightforward – the Italians can call their hot chocolate what they like, but it is, in essence, a mug of warm chocolate pudding before it has been allowed to set – milk, cream, cornstarch and dark chocolate…the makings of a most excellent creamy dessert – and damn indulgent hot chocolate.  It would be made only more satisfying with crisp biscotti for dunking.  This Christmas,  I’ll be taking the reins on the morning beverage; step aside, Sis.

TODAY’S RECIPE:
Forgive the less than professional photo – and the inartfully dolloped cream.  As mentioned above,  my inaugural recipe was created over a camp stove; the cream “whipped” in a vigorously shaken plastic container.  Nevertheless,  the results did not disappoint, possibly even made more delicious by our rustic surroundings. The Spanish may have Chocolate and Churros; we had Patagonia and Cioccolata Calda.

Tip:  You don’t want the hot chocolate to boil (212° F), but you need to heat it to a temperature of 203° F for the cornstarch’s thickening properties to activate.  Don’t rush the process by turning up the heat – be patient, heat it slowly, and stir often.


Italian Hot Chocolate

This ultra-thick, rich and not overly sweet elixir will change the way you think about hot chocolate. This recipe should make two servings, but I find it so decadent (even for me!) that it can easily stretch to 4 servings. With the addition of coffee, this belly warmer also makes a five-star mocha.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk, divided
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • 4 ½ oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • Tiny pinch salt (optional)
  • Lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together ¾ cup whole milk, heavy whipping cream and sugar until small bubbles begin to form around the edges (don’t boil).
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the remaining ¼ cup milk and cornstarch. Set aside.
  3. Once the milk is heated, add the cornstarch mixture and whisk for 30 seconds to combine. Add dark chocolate and salt and continue whisking for about 7 minutes until the chocolate has fully melted and the mixture thickly coats the back of a spoon (similar to a thin chocolate sauce). Pour into 2 coffee mugs (or 4 demitasse cups if you want to show restraint). Top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Careful – since this hot chocolate is so thick, it holds heat better than your regular brew; sip carefully.

Simple Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

Two servings of rice pudding with stawberries

Today’s Musings:
My friend, Frenchy, asked me to show him photos of recent desserts that made me proud, because, “you know, you’re never happy with the outcome. You think it doesn’t taste good or the texture is off, or there’s some other issue.” Frenchy’s correct…partially. He’s a musician and should understand the creative process. I challenge him to write a song,  from beginning to end, without adjustments, without tinkering until he is pleased with it; not a piece that is “good enough” for his audience, but a work that makes him proud.  A recipe rarely comes out perfect the first time and, if it does,  it often cannot be duplicated with the same results the second or third.  Tinkering is needed.   It’s part of the process. 

Yet, I won’t deny that I’m also my worst critic.  Self-doubt and I have done battled in the ring since childhood.  Regardless of what others may think,  and I’ve heard my share of snarky comments,  this is not feigned modesty constructed in an effort to appear meek and humble or garner compliments.  Confidence has been a lifelong struggle.  I remember a fellow student in culinary school,  Michelle,  who always seemed self-assured, even when she screwed up,  even when she undercooked her shrimp or used a recipe from Epicurious and called it her own.  And,  the thing was,  Chef bought it.  Chef loved her, thought she was the best,  because she was self-confident.  I, on the other hand, have often felt I’m one step away from being found out as a fraud.  Although,  confidence does not necessarily translate into competence. 

Over these last few years over the last year,  if I’m really honest my self-confidence has improved…in my baking, in my writing, in my photography, partially due to the feedback and encouragement of my friends and readers,  but also because I’m beginning to silence that incessant critic inside me.  I may not have Michelle’s hubris yet,  but I’m trying.  I recently found the following, illustrating just how far I’ve come: 

With clammy hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, I gulp pranayama breaths of air, desperately trying to calm down. A cake box filled with my future slides around on the passenger side floor. I am running late.

I’m taking my tarts to the owner of the Steakhouse for final judgment. My worst critic, me, appraises the final products harshly. A week before, I was a proud cock, crowing about my tarts – the best key lime ever! Today, as I test and decorate them, my confidence crumbles. The key lime is too sweet and its crust is gummy. I re-bake it. The coconut cream is dry, flat, and lacking coconut flavor. I re-bake it. The lemon tart is cloudy on the surface and a little undercooked. If I had more filling, I would re-bake this one as well. I attempt to cover up its flaws with powdered sugar and whipped cream. The apricot-almond seems overcooked and lacking flavor, I also re-bake it. The hours tick by; my kitchen is a war zone with sheet-pans and counters scattered with the bodies of discarded tarts.

Can’t I call him and cancel, start over, and wait until I produce something I deem remarkable?

I can’t endure criticism and my fear of it has only grown with each new culinary plan, scheme, and pursuit. Negative comments sear my skin and positive ones bounce off the scars, unable to sink in. It’s a throwback from my youth, I am sure. In our house, crushing another’s confidence was how you buoyed your own worth and superiority. Now, the effects paralyze me.

I drive the tarts to him and gather courage in the parking lot. He gives me bottles of wine as payment for my work and we chat. He doesn’t fear failure and I admire him for that. We talk about how difficult it is to tell a vendor their product isn’t any good, like breaking up with someone – “It’s not you, it’s me!”

I can’t do it. I can’t watch as my work is judged. I ask him to taste them after I leave, share them with the staff, and call me with his feedback. I cannot endure a breakup, not from him, not now. I wait. My phone is silent and I am deflated.

– Written 2014

He finally did call.  He loved the key lime, coconut and apricot-almond. You are probably expecting one of these recipes to be listed below.  Nope, not today. 

Today’s Recipe:


Simple Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

  • Servings: About 4 half-cup servings
  • Print

Many rice pudding recipes call for raw rice and 45 minutes or more of simmering. With this recipe, you can have comforting rice pudding in less than 10 minutes.


Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cooked rice, cooled
  • ¼ t. vanilla extract or 2 teaspoons brandy

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together corn starch, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Whisk in egg, then milk, and finally cooked rice.
  2. Place saucepan on medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer for 4-5 minutes until pudding is thickened and the texture of oatmeal. Take off heat and whisk in vanilla extract or brandy. I enjoy eating rice pudding warm from the stovetop. If you prefer chilled rice pudding, place in a dish and cover with plastic wrap, ensuring the plastic wrap makes contact with the pudding surface to avoid a skin.

Frenchy’s Chocolate Raspberry Tart with Pistachio Crust

A chocolate raspberry tart with a slice on a plate

Today’s Musings:
I recognize this evening as a non-starter before I even order my Sauvignon Blanc. I realize before this ass of mine has warmed the bar stool. There’s no chemistry – no spice. I’m more interested in the cute, tattooed bartender (alas, a wedding ring) than the man beside me. Before my first sip of wine, my date has managed to “casually touch” my thigh and arm a half-dozen times during conversation. I don’t need to wear my body language decoder ring – I get it; you’re interested, now back off. Our tactile evening continues with me receiving a demonstration of his co-worker’s hugging techniques followed by an unsolicited and awkward one-handed back rub. He has unquestionably grabbed or stroked me at least three dozen times. Body language hint – if your date is slowly sliding away to regain her personal space, stop with the hands! Ten minutes into the conversation, he declares that he wants to “claim” me as his own and our next date should be in my neighborhood. Next date?! I’m squirming through this one – and I’m beginning to believe you’re stalker material as well. Okay…polite conversation, polite conversation; I can do this; just finish my wine and leave – fast. I’m out the door in 40-minutes flat, but he insists on walking me to my car. Please don’t try to hug, kiss, or molest me at my vehicle. Not surprisingly, I receive his text on the 10-minute drive home, “Good night, Sweetheart.” Sweetheart – already?! Disturbing.

Reaching the safety of home, I’m tempted to bee-line for the kitchen and bake up a batch of David Lebovitz’s chocolate chip cookies – culinary Xanax. This type of dating debacle deserves an edible pacifier – a dozen warm, gooey cookies or even a chocolate cake with thick chocolate frosting – devoured in one sitting. I content myself with a turkey sandwich and Netflix instead.

Today’s Recipe:
This recipe was especially made for my friend, Frenchy.  When it comes to dating, he’s the Jerry Seinfeld to my Elaine, always good for a few dating horror stories of his own.  But rather than chatting about our pitiful love lives over a “Big Salad,” we prefer coffee and dessert.  This one is especially for you,  Frenchy!  


Frenchy’s Chocolate Raspberry Tart with Pistachio Crust

  • Servings: One 9” tart
  • Print

The raspberry coulis is a must to help cut the richness of this decadently sinful dessert. If you love chocolate and raspberries, this dessert is for you.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 1 cup (about 10 cookies) shortbread crumbs, such as Lorna Doone
  • 1 cup pistachios, raw
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • 1 lbs. dark chocolate
  • 1 ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 7 large egg yolks, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon instant espresso (optional)
  • ½ cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 12 oz. fresh raspberries
  • Raspberry Coulis
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 12 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1 Tablespoon raspberry or orange liqueur (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine shortbread crumbs, pistachios, sugar and salt in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add melted butter and process until mixture begins to clump and resembles wet sand. Press crust along the bottom and up the sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake until crust is golden and smells like roasted pistachios, about 12 minutes. Cool.
  2. Chop chocolate and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring in-between, until chocolate is fully melted, about 1 ½-2 minutes. Cool slightly.
  3. Whisk together heavy cream, beaten egg yolks, and instant espresso (if using). Add melted chocolate and whisk until fully combined.
  4. Fill crust with chocolate mixture and bake in a 350° F. oven until top is firm to the touch but center still jiggles slightly, 25-30 minutes. Cool 30 minutes and then refrigerate until completely cold.
  5. While tart is cooling, make raspberry coulis by combining sugar and water in a heat-proof liquid measuring cup. Microwave on high power for 2 minutes and stir to ensure all sugar crystals are dissolved. Combine this simple syrup with thawed raspberries in a blender. Blend until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir and push puree through a fine-mesh strainer to catch the seeds. Add liqueur, if using. Store in the refrigerator up to a week.
  6. When tart is cool, heat seedless raspberry jam in a small bowl in the microwave until it is liquid. Brush top of tart with warm jam, arrange fresh raspberries on top, and brush raspberries with more jam. Serve tart with raspberry coulis.