Hazelnut Mocha Cannoli

A plate of 4 Hazelnut Mocha Cannoli

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

  • Servings: 12 Cannoli
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Ingredients

    For Cannoli
  • 12 cannoli shells
  • 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2.25 oz. chopped hazelnuts, toasted
  • For Filling
  • 8 oz. Nutella
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 10 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 teaspoons instant coffee
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

A plate of sausage stuffed mushrooms

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

  • Servings: 24 Mushrooms
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Mushroom caps stuffed with sausage, cream cheese and Parmesan – Keto-friendly and tasty!


Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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 from Epicurious.

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

3 jars of preserved lemons

You can file this one under any of the following categories:

    1. Recipes to make during social distancing that don’t require a special trip to the store
    2. Stovetop cooking that will scent your entire house with clean, lemony goodness
    3. 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

  • Servings: 2 lemons, One 16 oz. jar
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Preserved lemons are an indispensable ingredient in Moroccan cooking and add a tart, salty, spicy, somewhat bitter punch to recipes.


Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Pour reserved salt water over lemons, filling jar and submerging lemons completely. Seal with lid.
  4. 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.

Coconut Brownie Buttons

A plate of Coconut Brownie Buttons

I’m only 15 days into California’s shelter-in-place mandate and I’m already tired of staring at the same living room each day and evening, which reminds me of a recent creative writing assignment I completed on just that subject – my living room. I apologize in advance for the length of this post – feel free to skip to the recipe. I won’t mind.

LIVING ROOM

Georgia O’Keeffe, a hero of mine, painted every wall of her beloved home in Abiquiu, NM creamy white. The effect was modern, calming, soothing, and the perfect counterbalance to her large, colorful canvases hung on the walls. I wonder what she’d think of my living room. The first thing she’d notice is the cacophony of colors. I’ve painted the walls a vivid brick red. The imposing mid-century fireplace pops from the corner thanks to a shade of golden wheat. The kitchen wall peeks from the opposite corner, a sagey green. Warm tones, in general, except for the daring teal velvet mid-century wing chair; its color repeating itself on a throw pillow, in a niche, in candles, on a decorative plate. I’ve read in decorating books that tertiary colors should be repeated at least three times to help your eye move about easily. In this painter’s box of color, I’ve taken that recommendation to heart. There are dabs of all these colors – and others – spattered throughout this rainbow palette.

The bare, wooden floors, in contrast, glow a dark Brazilian cherry, reminding me of a racehorse’s shiny coat. I believe breeders call that color “sorrel.” For a long time, I envisioned breaking up the expanse of dark floor and tempering the explosion of color with a large, white, fluffy flokati rug. I finally thought better of it, knowing a white rug would quickly turn a dingy gray underfoot, especially with two cats. The “boys”, the constant residents of this space, spend more of the day here than I do, lounging in the sun, determinedly grooming themselves, and wrestling each other into submission. Consequently, every surface, from floor to couch to coffee table, is covered in a layer of their hair. In fact, just before the cleaners are due for a visit, it’s common to watch cat-hair tumbleweeds slowly roll their way across the floor to accumulate in the room’s remote corners.

My sister, Susan, says my living room reminds her of Pablo Picasso’s apartment in the 1960’s. Since she’s never met Picasso – or seen his apartment, I’m dubious of her comparison, although she explained it to me once – it’s the juxtaposition of eras, of textures, of cultures, not unlike photos of his mid-century abode randomly scattered with mismatched sculptures, found items, and art. My sunken room and its furnishings are decidedly sleek mid-century modern, yet the step down is weathered Saltillo and glazed Spanish tiles. The menacing antique puppet in the corner is Balinese, the embroidered tapestry on the wall Oaxacan, and the ceramic vase hand-thrown by a Santa Ana Artwalk artist, a steal at $25. Another decorating rule I subscribe to is, “mismatched items you truly love will always go together.” These are my loved items – my collection. A less flattering comparison would be that the décor tends towards a Pier 1 sale aisle.

The entire west side of the room looks out on the backyard, thanks to a bank of ten wooden-framed windows original to the 1950’s house. There’s no blinds or curtains to obscure the view. I’ve left them bare so I can watch the morning squirrel and bird going-ons as I sip my coffee from the comfort of my couch. Just before sunset each evening, the room shimmers with direct afternoon light reflecting golden off the polished wooden floor, silver coffee table and flurry of ubiquitous swirling cat hair in the air. It’s often the motivation needed to grab the Swiffer, as the final light rays sink behind the garden wall.

The cookie recipe below is ideal during this time of self-quarantine because it requires minimal ingredients – and substitutions are encouraged. Out of walnuts? Any nut or combination of nuts will do. Don’t have coconut? Roll the cookies in powdered sugar or granulated sugar. Don’t want to go to the store for cocoa powder? Leave it out and let the flavor of the nuts shine! Plus, dare I say, with no flour, minimal sugar, and heart-healthy nuts, they are somewhat good for you – just like staying at home these days.


Coconut Brownie Buttons

  • Servings: 16 cookies
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Rich chocolate cookies with a crisp coconut outside and soft fudge-like middle.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Place shredded coconut in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Remove coconut and set aside.
  2. Place walnuts in the bowl of food processor and process until well chopped. Add sugar and process until mixture looks like sand. Add cocoa powder and salt and process until combined. Add egg white and vanilla extract and process until dough comes together. Transfer bowl to refrigerator and refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes to make it easier to handle.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Divide dough into 16 equal balls (about 13 grams each). Roll each ball in reserved coconut and place on baking sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes until coconut is lightly toasted and cookies are barely firm to the touch (you want the outside crisp, but the inside fudge-like). Cool for a few minutes on baking sheet then transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

Salmon Corn Chowder

A bowl of Salmon Corn Chowder

Not a fish fan? The salmon can be replaced with shredded cooked chicken.

Culinary School flew by at such a rapid pace that I barely remember the basics. Today, 11 years later, I couldn’t tourne a potato to save my life, even though we spent weeks perfecting our technique. Knowledge was imparted by Chef, 90% of it sadly unretained by this student.

Someone recently asked me what defines a soup as “chowder” and, as that definition was probably somewhere in my missing 90%, I didn’t have a sufficient answer. Does using seafood make it chowder? Nope. Seafood is a standard ingredient, yes, but not a requirement. Does adding cream make it chowder? Chowders are often finished with cream, but they don’t have to be.

According to The Professional Chef, the tome we relied upon in school, chowder is defined as, “a soup that is thickened with flour, roux or potatoes.” Thank goodness “potatoes” were in that mix, because I’ve been calling this recipe “chowder” for years.

Who knew I could be validated by a potato.


Salmon Corn Chowder

A hearty soup loaded with salmon, bacon, sweet corn, and, of course, potatoes.


Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup brandy, white wine, or dry sherry
  • ¾ lb. potatoes, cut into ½” cubes
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups frozen or fresh corn
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups cooked salmon, cubed
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. In a large pot, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Add onion, carrot and celery to the bacon fat and cook until softened and beginning to brown.
  2. Add bay leaf, thyme, and brandy; reduce, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add potatoes and chicken stock, bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  3. Add corn and simmer until corn is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add heavy whipping cream, salmon, and reserved bacon. Simmer 10 more minutes, remove bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper.