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Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Cannoli

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of  Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

Gosh, I have the Soprano's cookbook but I didn't even bother to consult it and just used the recipe as posted in the The Daring Baker's forum. Anyway, YUM! I never deep fry anything - except a turkey here and there, and in fact I think it would be bad news for me to own a deep fryer, but these cannoli are proof that fried foods are as fantastic as ever. I have probably only had real cannoli once or twice, luckily I work with an Italian-American and he's brought in homemade delights before... and as soon as I put together this easy-to-assemble dough, the smell of the Marsala and cinnamon and cocoa really smelled exactly what a cannoli should smell like.

After refrigerating the dough overnight, it was time to start making the cannoli tubes! I rolled out the dough into to parts and used a 3-4in biscuit cutter which resulted in "small/medium" sized cannoli. The dough kept shrinking back on me but I tried to roll out the circles as thin as I could and wrap them around my brand new cannoli metal shape forms. I picked those up at the cake supply store by my house for only $4, wahoo! More kitchen utensils!

I didn't quite have 3 inches of oil but that was way too much for my 2-at-a-time cannoli cooking method. My Le Creuset worked out just fine for this task and I used metal tongs to place and remove the cannoli as they were frying. They only took a minute or two to brown up. I would've preferred the dough to be a little lighter so that I could enjoy that golden crispy glow a little bit more, as these probably look "burnt".. but just check out the color of my raw dough and know that I cooked them until crispy and that was it. :)

I only deep fried the tip of my middle finger for a moment.. yeoow.... but other than that, no injuries. I also didn't heed the recipe which said "wait for the cannoli forms to cool down before rolling another circle on".. I was too impatient and just went with it. I only had a few of my cannoli bust open due to a fault egg-white seam breaking, which those turned into puffy discs which were great taste testers for my fillings!

Let's talk about these killer fillings. First, I made half of Lisa's posted recipe using this wonderful mascarpone cheese which I picked up from a great market - Colasanti's in Milford. Oh it was soo creamy and sweet before I even added any sugar or flavoring, and you wouldn't believe it was cheese after this filling was complete. I skipped the candied orange peel and nuts since I didn't run into any at the store plus The Husband probably wouldn't like it, and just used chopped chocolate chunks. With the cinnamon and creaminess of the mascarpone, it was just such a wonderful filling. This was leagues ahead of that pesky "Pastry Cream" I made for the vols-au-vent Daring Bakers challenge... that pastry filling was pretty much just vanilla pudding. Now this mascarpone cannoli filling was so light and airy, my mom even had to ask me if I had whipped cream in there - nope! It was a perfect filling which I think would go wonderfully in cakes, doughnuts, and other pastries. Yum!! See the recipes below! To even top this awesome filling, I did dip a few of my cannoli into melted chocolate chips and roll them into chopped nuts.. that was SO good!

Second, and I hope I don't get Tony Soprano's mother to roll over in her grave, but.. I came up with a savory cannoli filling that was very unorthodox... I was thinking "hmm deep fried shell.... and.. .. how about mexican?? " I whipped up some refried beans and cheese and squirted that into the fried crispy shells. Topped with even more cheese and popped into the oven under the broiler for about 5 minutes, and these little puppies were delicious! These would be great with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and/or cilantro and they would make a very unusual and tasty appetizer. I had a little concern wondering what the marsala-cinnamon-chocolate dough would be like with beans, but have no fear - it was delightful.

So this was an extremely fun challenge - something totally off the wall for me that I would never have tried, and successes all around with both of my fillings. I was happy to be able to share these with my brother and sister-in-law who were up from South Carolina visiting us in Michigan. It's always nice to be able to share Daring Baker challenge goodies with friends and family and I think they picked a good weekend to visit!

Lidisano’s Cannoli

Makes 22-24 4-inch cannoli

Prep time:
Dough – 2 hours and 10-20 minutes, including resting time, and depending on whether you do it by hand or machine.
Filling – 5-10 minutes plus chilling time (about 2 hours or more)
Frying – 1-2 minutes per cannoli
Assemble – 20–30 minutes


2 cups (250 grams/16 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish

Confectioners' sugar

Note - If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough (Thanks to Audax).

2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios

Note - If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.

. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

2 Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

3 Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

8. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

9. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.


1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pumpkin Gooey Bars - Revisited

These Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake Bars... my goodness, they are so delicious I have made 3 batches in the last few weeks! The first lucky recipients of a double batch were my coworkers during my annual chili cookoff at work.

However, my brother and sister-in-law were recently visiting us in Michigan and they had seen my previous post of the Pumpkin Gooey Bars and said "these look really good!" So, one more batch was whipped up in honor of their visit from South Carolina. It was even sunny when I was taking the pictures so check out this excellent looking portable stack of Pumpkin Gooey Bars which they got to bring home with them.

Thanks again to Paula Deen (click here for original post and recipe) for another delicious fall dessert adventure, this would be perfect for Thanksgiving dessert These are too easy and so delightfully delicious. I am even wondering if I should bother with the Epicurious version of Pecan Pumpkin Pie from Paul Prodhomme for Thanksgiving or if I should just make another batch of Pumpkin Gooey Bars in a springform pan and call it good! Let me know if you have an opinion on which I should do for Thanksgiving!

Thanks for visiting, Andrew and Jessie, we had a great time!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant

This is certainly one of my family's favorite restaurants. My parents have only been able to go once or twice, while I was living in Ann Arbor, but The Husband and I used to make this a tradition to go for my birthday dinner to the establishment in Ferndale. The food and tea and setting are pretty much the same so just go to the one closest to you! The last few years we replaced the Blue Nile birthday tradition with the Holly Hotel to work into our schedules a little better, so we hadn't been in a few years but we finally talked my brother and sister-in-law into going during their brief visit to Michigan this past weekend. Oh yummy yum yum, it was just as delicious as we remembered!

This kind of cuisine needs a little bit of explanation - Ethiopian food isn't very common for Michiganders and I will admit I had no idea what to expect my first time visiting the Blue Nile when I was in college. First off, it's a really beautiful setting with rich tapestries, bright bold colors, and ethnic decor. The Ferndale location has many purple/blue/magent fabric umbrellas hanging upsidedown from the ceiling. It is a romantic setting and you typically have two options for styles of table - one is a more ethnic choice, either low chairs or normal chairs set around a tall basket. The food is served to you in the basket and everyone in your group leans over to eat from the same tray. Likewise, they have booths which you can also be served in, which might be more comfortable for those who do not like low tables.

What does it taste like? Well I can't really say it's like Indian because The Husband hates Indian but loves Blue Nile... but the style of stewing the meat and lentils seems similar... it's just a different flavor profile than Indian, like nothing we have had before anywhere else.

As far as I am concerned, there are only two options of menu items - Vegetarian or Meat. We always get the meat choice and it is around $19 per person... but before you freak out about spending that much on stewed meat and lentils, it is all-you-can-eat so you won't leave hungry or disappointed. The food is served family style - they bring out a big tray that is lined with their spongey edible "bread" called injera, and they have several bowls of various items to dump onto your injera-covered table. You also get a basket of injera which you use as a utensil to scoop up all of the delicious meat and lentil dishes.

Because we never spend much time looking at the menu, we don't usually learn the ethnic names of the dishes but I was able to do a little research. My all-time favorite "Spicy Beef" and "Spicy Chicken" are Zilzil Wat and Doro Wat... I must find a recipe for these dishes somewhere online. The Husband and I just totally love them. These are the dark red meaty items in the picture above. They also have a mild chicken and lamb dish, and our lamb was a little chewy this time but the chicken was very good.

That's it for the meat dishes and they surround all of those with several vegetable dishes - spicy red lentils (Yemisir Kik Wat), Kik Alecha (split yellow peas), Tekil Gomen (cabbage), Gomen (collard greens), and one of my favorites - Mixed Vegetables (it sounds simple but the potatoes, carrots, etc are totally delicious). There are few more veggie lentil/pea dishes too, and they're all very enjoyable.

I didn't realize this before but the website says that Ethiopian food is extremely healthy and has very little added fat, etc to their foods. I guess it is pretty healthy but - I usually eat waaaay too much here so I associate it with being incredibly full! I also always insist on getting the Ethiopian Tea which is basically cinnamon flavored but it is naturally sweetened with orange and lemon peel and I just love its spiciness and sweetness.

Anyway, if you are an adventurous diner and looking for a unique restaurant - something totally out of the ordinary - that's delicious, healthy and fun... then try the Blue Nile! It is one of our favorites and continues to be a family favorite, so I hope they stick around in Michigan.

The Blue Nile
545 West Nine Mile Rd
Ferndale, Michigan
Blue Nile Website

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cookies for a Cause: Magic Blondies

Hmmm I must not have released this post because it was waiting for a picture, so it is a little old. This was the Cookies-For-A-Cause recipe I chose for August 28th...

A new fundraising record! These Magic Blondies from Martha Stewart's "Cookies" book were definitely tasty treats. I whipped up a double batch and they consist of blondie batter studded with walnuts (and some pecans which I had on hand), dried cherries, chocolate chips, and coconut. Then more coco-nut-choc-cherry topping goes on top and bake in easy-to-unwrap cupcake liners.

The recipe makes 12 but I squeezed out a few extra and brought the big batch into work. This was our highest amount of money that we were able to raise so far, and I am pleased to say that we raised $32.33 for the Alzheimer's Association, making our new total money raised over $200 just by my baking and my generous coworkers! As I've mentioned before, my Cookies for a Cause work as a one-woman bake sale - my donations are the ingredients and time baking and 100% of my coworkers' donations are given to charities of my choice.

I'll keep baking if they keep donating! Hope you enjoy if you try the recipe!

Magic Blondies
from here on Martha Stewart's website

Makes 1 dozen
2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped walnuts (about 2 1/2 ounces)
2/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
9 tablespoons (1 1/8 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners; set aside. Stir together coconut, chocolate, walnuts, and cherries in a medium bowl; set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; mix until combined.

Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and mix, scraping down sides of bowl, until well combined. Mix in 1 cup coconut mixture.

Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each about three-quarters full. Sprinkle remaining coconut mixture over tops. Bake blondies until a cake tester inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, about 25 minutes. Blondies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 days.

From Holiday Cookies 2005, Special Issue 2005

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anne-Marie's Apple Cake

I work with a wonderful french lady who was nice enough to share her grandmother's recipe for a deliciously moist apple cake with me. The original recipe does not call for any cinnamon so the only change I made was add just a touch of cinnamon, and when I buttered the pan, I sprinkled cinnamon-sugar into the pan and swirled it around to cover the sides. It was delicious and worked out perfectly even though I thought it looked like too many apples when mixing the batter.. have no fear, it will work out great. I was happy to use my bundt pan, the poor neglected thing.

Anne-Marie's Applecake Recipe

3 eggs
250 g flour
150 g sugar
100 g butter
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 large apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small pieces
vanilla flour - 1 bag (I just used vanilla extract here)
optional - 1 tablespoon rum

2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon for pan

Preheat oven to 375. Butter a bundt pan and pour in cinnamon sugar, and shake and swirl until all of the sides and bottom are covered. In a large bowl, mix melted butter with sugar and add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla extract and rum if using. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking soda (and cinnamon) and then add into your egg mixture. Add the apples. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Loaf pan can also be used.

The directions were a little unclear with how hot and how long to bake the cake so I believe I took the average of the two temperatures, and baked the cake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy this delicious, moist amd simple apple cake! Thanks Anne-Marie! The Husband loved this recipe and so did Marco.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Moroccan Slow-Cooked Lamb

Yes, this dish is totally fabulous!  I made this for a birthday celebration for my dad.. it was my mom's idea to do Moroccan and dad likes pretty much anything so I went with that idea. I just couldn't decide between our favorite Moroccan dish - Lemon, Olive, and Chicken Tagine recipe and this new Moroccan lamb stew recipe I saw on, which sounded equally as delicious. We don't have lamb very often, but I knew the chicken dish was a winner.. finally I decided, we're doing them both. Leftovers will be delicious, if there would be any, and we get to compare these two dishes side by side. We had already had our chicken tagine recipe for dinner on Wednesday but we were both like "I'd definitely have that again Sunday" and the lamb dish was going to offer a different set of flavors - apricots, chickpeas, fennel seeds, lemon, cinnamon, ginger... it sounded very flavorful!

Everything turned out perfectly - I followed the recipe exactly and sure enough, about an hour and a half later, the lamb was incredibly tender and the flavors were awesome. The sweetness of the apricots offset the spicy lamb and the chickpeas added a nice body to the stew. Topped with some fresh cilantro, and this is possibly our new favorite Moroccan dish. This is a must try, simply delicious.

Moroccan Slow-Cooked Lamb
Find the recipe here on

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds trimmed boned lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 15 1/2-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
1 cup dried apricots (about 5 ounces)
2 large plum tomatoes, chopped
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons (packed) grated lemon peel

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Mix first 6 ingredients in large bowl. Add lamb and toss to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add lamb to skillet and cook until browned on all sides, turning occasionally and adding 2 more tablespoons oil to skillet between batches, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer lamb to another large bowl after each batch.

Add onion and tomato paste to drippings in skillet. Reduce heat to medium; sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add broth, garbanzo beans, apricots, tomatoes, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and lemon peel and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Return lamb to skillet and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until lamb is just tender, about 1 hour. Uncover and simmer until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.)

Transfer lamb and sauce to bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cookies for a Cause: Lime Meltaways

I thought these looked great from Martha Stewarts Cookie book, but I must say they were not the favorite cookie of anyone who tried them at work except my mom who also tried them. I guess some people don't like lime, and while I do and I thought the cookies were good, it's just not something I would ever crave or say "you have to try this right this second they are so good!" I thought the dough was a little salty and desparately needed a thick coat of powdered sugar around the outside, but it was still a nice cookie. I would be happy with this cookie if I wanted to make a festive cookie platter, this would be a nice cookie that would offer a sweet-tart counterpoint, something unusual but still tasty.

On the bright side, we did raise some money for Capuchin Soup Kitchen - I collected $15.93, bringing our grand total to $395.13 for various charities that I have chosen. As usual, my donation is the preparation and ingredients for the cookies (and sometimes a dollar or two if I eat one at work), and 100% of the money collected from my coworkers goes to charities. This is going awesome and we're almost to $400!!

I was happy to have inspired one of my best friends, Andrea, to try and start up a one-woman bake sale at her workplace. She was all fired up and brought in a batch of one of our favorites -  Brown Butter Toffee Bars - to her office.... and it turns out she wasn't allowed to be raising money at work!! So they made her take down her jar, even though she had already done really well with her collections, and we were both super bummed out about her not being able to carry on. Kudos to Dre for trying, anyway. Maybe they will change their rules... go to the head of HR!! :)

Lime Meltaways
Find the recipe here on Martha


Makes about 3 dozen

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt


Put butter and 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add lime zest and juice and vanilla, and mix until fluffy.

Whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt in a bowl. Add to butter mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined.

Divide dough in half. Place each half on an 8-by-12-inch sheet of parchment paper. Roll in parchment to form a log 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow log. Refrigerate logs until cold and firm, at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove parchment from logs; cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Space rounds 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 13 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. While still warm, toss cookies with remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a resealable plastic bag. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 weeks.

From The Martha Stewart Show, March 2008