I started a gratitude journal. Corny, I know, but I’ve found myself, like many people, struggling to stay on track during the pandemic. There’s too much time spent watching Tiger King, not enough time hiking or baking or gardening. On one such evening, splayed on my couch with blanket and Netflix and feeling low, my cat, Mochi, jumped up on my chest, gave my tummy a gentle knead, curled up and soothed me with his motor at a steady rumble. I scratched his head and thought, “THIS is contentment. This is all I need tonight.” The first entry in my gratitude journal:
Mochi, sleeping on my chest, purring
On today’s walk, the birds and their new babies were a choir of song, warming sunshine shone across my back while the lightest breeze kept the heat from being unbearable, Jacaranda trees Jackson Pollocked the sidewalks in a lavender explosion, and the air smelled sweetly of star jasmine. “THIS,” I thought as I traversed the neighborhood, “is all I need.”
I’m also grateful that my local Italian Market, Claro’s, stocks a pretty decent Cannoli shell.
Hazelnut Mocha Cannoli
- 12 cannoli shells
- 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 2.25 oz. chopped hazelnuts, toasted
- 8 oz. Nutella
- 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
- 10 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
- 4 teaspoons instant coffee
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
- Melt the bittersweet 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 hazelnuts. Set aside to set.
- Lightly beat together Nutella, mascarpone, ricotta and instant coffee. 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.
He loosely grips the steering wheel with one hand, the other nestles along my left thigh. The dappled sunlight warms our scalps, unimpeded by a convertible roof tucked away in the trunk. My hair is kept restrained by a scarf. I catch his eye and grin, content and ready for another adventure…
The Southern California weather’s been ideal, bright sunny days with cool breezes, and I long for the return of road trips with my guy, shelved during this self-isolation and COVID shaming. Reminding myself that the best part of the adventure is often the journey, I suggest a road trip where the final destination becomes secondary, where we needn’t leave the safety of our convertible. The first weekend, we head northeast to two mountain destinations offering up patches of slushy snow and the fresh, cool air we so desperately crave. Our picnic by the lake, his doing, is a bonus. We’re hooked. The next weekend, it’s two hours south to Julian, a town known for its freshly baked apple pies. Not only do we pick up a still-warm apple crumble pie, we also pull off at a dusty roadside fruit stand for blood oranges, avocados, and honey. Next weekend, it’s our longest adventure yet, up the coast to an enclave famous for aebleskivers and Danish kitsch.
This cake is a celebration of our roadside stop last weekend where we stocked up on local honey and blood oranges. These farm-fresh ingredients made their way into this refreshing citrusy dessert that looks quite the showstopper when the cake is inverted onto the serving platter.
Blood Orange and Honey Upside-Down Cake
A refreshing citrus cake that looks quite a showstopper when turned out is sure to be a favorite of anyone who appreciates a bit of marmalade.
- ½ cup honey
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice (either blood orange or regular)
- 1 to 2 unpeeled blood oranges (depending on size), very thinly sliced crosswise (discard ends). I used a mandolin.
- ¾ cup butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 Tablespoon grated orange peel (either blood orange or regular)
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup whole milk
- Lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream (optional)
- In a 10-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, stir honey and orange juice until boiling. Cook without stirring until mixture is foamy, slightly thickened, and reaches 230°, 2 to 4 minutes. Place in freezer until cooled, about 10 minutes. Slightly overlap orange slices in concentric circles over syrup.
- Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, with a mixer on high speed, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in orange peel.
- In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir half the flour mixture into butter mixture just until incorporated. Stir in milk, then remaining flour mixture. Do not over mix. Carefully spoon batter over orange slices in pan and spread evenly.
- Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Lay a flat plate over pan and carefully invert cake onto plate. Lift pan off, being careful with hot syrup. Allow to cool completely and cut into wedges. Serve with whipped cream, if desired. This cake is best eaten the same day it is made.
I’d love to claim this recipe as one of my own, but it actually comes from Sunset Magazine. My only alteration was substituting blood oranges for standard oranges.
I wrote this post a few months ago, when socializing with family, friends and neighbors was a typical part of life and not a longed-for luxury. During those simpler times, I made this recipe for two separate get-togethers. I re-read this post today and I’m dumbfounded by the difference in today’s reality. Oh, how life in the midst of COVID has changed…
I’ve never been adept at making friends with women. The language of female bonding has always been foreign to me. As a result, I’ve only had a couple of close female friends in my life, women who somehow understood me even though I lacked some essential female bonding gene. Last year, that all changed, when I seemingly discovered my nascent estrogen bonding abilities, resulting in new friendships. Two women, in particular, I’m pleased to call not only neighbors, but genuine friends. It all started last year, at an impromptu progressive New Year’s Eve party, and has blossomed into regular happy hours, food sharing, and celebrations. I’m excited when I discover a text suggesting “Wine Down Wednesday” or a happy hour get together, which always results in copious amounts of wine, bellies full of cheese, and plenty of laughs…
Tonight is one of those nights and, in support of one of those lovely women who is currently “Keto for a Cause,” I’ve made these Keto-friendly stuffed mushrooms to pair with our coconut vodka cocktails. It’s sure to be another fun night!
Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
Mushroom caps stuffed with sausage, cream cheese and Parmesan – Keto-friendly and tasty!
- 3 Italian hot sausages, casings removed (if using mild sausage, add ¼ teaspoon chili flakes)
- 1 teaspoon sage
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- 1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk
- 24 large crimini mushrooms, stemmed
- Sauté sausage, sage, and thyme in a large skillet over medium-high heat until sausage is cooked through and brown, breaking into small pieces with back of fork, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1-minute more. Set aside and allow to cool. Mix in ½ Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and cream cheese. Season with salt and pepper and mix in egg yolk.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13×9-inch baking dish. Fill each mushroom cap with scant 1 tablespoon filling and sprinkle with some of remaining Parmesan cheese. Arrange mushrooms, filling side up, in prepared dish. Bake uncovered until mushrooms are tender and filling is brown on top, about 25 minutes. Finish under a broiler, if needed. Serve warm.
Adapted from this recipe
A benefit of working from home during COVID-19 is the ability to move my office outdoors when the weather’s agreeable. The climate, this week, has been extremely fine and, today, I find myself perched at my patio table, under the sailcloth, bare feet propped on a nearby chair, listening to the mocking birds shout their heads off nearby. This time of year in LA is lovely.
The downside of this COVID-19 quarantine is that I’m baking madly through the pandemic – and gorging my way through the results. I’m lamentably watching the number creep up on my bathroom scale. I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but it’s times like these that I really wish my culinary forte was low-cal, low-carb, healthy meals.
I managed to share these cookies with my guy so I didn’t eat the ENTIRE batch, but pretty darn near close to it. When you bite into these thin, crisp cornmeal cookies, your mouth is filled with fresh lemon (yes, 2 Tablespoons of zest is correct!) followed by the spicy tingle from fresh ginger. They’re so addictive, I’m ready to bake another batch!
*Recipe adapted from Lori Longbotham’s lemon-black pepper cornmeal cookies.
Lemon Ginger Cornmeal Thins
These cookies are best when pressed as thinly as possible to ensure maximum crispness. When you bite into these thin cornmeal cookies, your mouth is filled with fresh lemon followed by the spicy tingle from fresh ginger.
- ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornmeal
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon (generous) finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 large egg yolk
- Additional sugar for shaping
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk the flour, cornmeal, and salt together in a medium bowl.
- Beat the butter, sugar, zest, and ginger in a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and beat on low speed just until blended; the dough will be crumbly.
- Scoop teaspoonfuls of dough and roll into balls. Place on silpat or parchment-paper lined baking sheets. Dip the bottom of a glass in sugar and press each ball into a very thin disk – about ⅛” thick.
- Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown, switching sheets half-way through baking. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool. I have no doubt these would be fabulous sandwiched with white chocolate ganache.
You can file this one under any of the following categories:
- Recipes to make during social distancing that don’t require a special trip to the store
- Stovetop cooking that will scent your entire house with clean, lemony goodness
- Condiments that add a unique complexity to your weeknight standards
My prolific lemon tree is pregnant with fragrant fruit again. Unfortunately, this yellow-orbed bounty resides in my front yard – easily accessible for plucking from neighbors and fruit sellers alike. I welcome the neighbors; not so much those that profit from purloined pickings. Fully ripe in April, the bountiful tree is often stripped bare by July. While I’m sequestered at home, I’ve been staring through my front window at the pounds of pluckable citrus, chiding myself for not using this stretch of time to whip up a pitcher or two of fresh lemonade before the fruit disappears.
Yesterday, a coworker (yes, a real coworker – not my cats) reminded me of another use – preserved lemons. Preserved lemons are an indispensable ingredient in Moroccan cooking and add a tart, salty, spicy, somewhat bitter punch that can’t be duplicated with lemon juice or zest. How could I forget preserved lemons – one of my top five favorite ingredients? In culinary school, during my final exams, my Moroccan-Spanish menu demanded jars of preserved lemons – for empanadas, for tagines, for a decadently rich dark chocolate tart. One of my favorite uses is simply adding preserved lemons to roasted fingerling potatoes.
I claim that this recipe doesn’t require a special trip to the store, but I also realize that most people don’t necessarily keep items like coriander seeds in their pantry. This recipe is great for substitutions – or leaving spices out completely. If you only have ground versions of any of the spices, use ⅛ or ¼ teaspoon instead. The only things you really need are lemons, kosher salt and water, although some of the spicy complexity will be lost.
Here’s a few of my recipes that call for preserved lemons:
Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon
Farro and Pomegranate Salad
Moroccan Preserved Lemons
Preserved lemons are an indispensable ingredient in Moroccan cooking and add a tart, salty, spicy, somewhat bitter punch to recipes.
- 2 lemons
- 3 cups water
- 3 Tablespoons Kosher salt
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick (about 3” long)
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- Rinse lemons and score peels down length of lemons, about 1-inch apart. In a saucepan, combine lemons, water and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the peel can be pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
- Transfer lemons to a canning jar, pressing down slightly to release a bit of juice. Reserve salt water in pan. Add cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and black peppercorns to lemons in jar.
- Pour reserved salt water over lemons, filling jar and submerging lemons completely. Seal with lid.
- Cool completely and refrigerate, turning jar occasionally. Allow lemons to rest for at least 5 days and up to 3 months. To preserve for longer than 3 months, use your preferred canning method.
NOTE: You may notice a lacy, white substance clinging to preserved lemons in the jar. It is perfectly harmless, but should be rinsed off for aesthetic reasons just before the lemons are used.