Thursday, February 25, 2021

Holy Cannoli!




   Today, you're getting a lesson in cannoli - perhaps Sicily's best-known dessert pastry.  Cannoli (singular being cannolo) means "little tubes" in Sicilian and they are believed to have originated in the Palermo and Messina regions of Italy.  Basically, a cannola is a fried tube-shaped shell filled with a sweet cheese cream filling.  The shell provides the crunchy texture while the cream filling supplies the sweet flavor.  The filling is traditionally ricotta-based, but sometimes mascarpone cheese or a combination of both is used.  The filling is generally sweetened with sugar, vanilla, and/or honey.  Other additives common to cannoli to add unique flavors and textures include assorted nuts, fruits (both fresh and candied), chocolate, and caramel.

As for the origins of cannoli, there are two stories or legends that try to explain its heritage.  The first claims that cannoli were invented by the concubines of a Saracen prince's harem in the Sicilian province of Caltanissetta.  Another story attributes their invention to the nuns of a convent, also in Caltanissetta, who produced the sweet to celebrate Carnevale, before Lent begins.  So, take your pick.  

The dessert spread throughout Sicily then migrated to the United States during the 1880s where adaptions were made to the original recipe due to the availability of ingredients.  At any rate, the dessert inspired one of the great Hollywood film quotes of all time:  "Nobody puts Cannoli in a corner!"  (Dirty Dancing 1987)  No! No! No!  Wait!  That's not right.  It was from the Godfather in 1972 - "Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli!"

Now, let's make some cannoli.

First, you need cannoli tubes.  

Or you can go find you some reeds, since the name cannolo is derived from "canna" which is a cane-like reed, such as a sugar cane stalk, and back in the day, the dough was rolled out then wrapped around the canes before being fried.

Lacking sugar stalks, I turned to Amazon for my cannoli tubes.

Next, make your cannoli dough.

Cannoli Dough
(Enough for 30 cannoli shells.)
2 cups flour
2 TB sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 TB butter, diced
1 egg
1/4 cup white wine
1 TB skim milk
1 tsp cream
(Rosie Note:  You can use milk.  I just never have plain milk on hand, but I always have skim and cream so I combine them.  As for the wine, I have no idea what that does, but cannoli recipes typically contain white wine.)

In food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Add butter, a piece or two at a time, pulsing.  Then add egg and liquids.  Pulse until dough forms a ball.  Remove from bowl and knead by hand on a lightly floured surface until it all comes together nicely.  Form into a ball, cover in plastic, and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Working with half the dough at a time, roll it out to 1/16" thick.  Then roll it some more to make it even thinner.  I don't think you can roll cannoli dough too thin.  Cut out into 4-inch-diameter rounds and wrap around cannoli tubes, sealing with egg white.

In a deep pot, heat oil (I use peanut oil) to 350°- 360°.  Drop 2-3 cannoli tubes into hot oil and fry
2 - 2 1/2 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let drain on racks.  Let cool.  Remove shells from tubes, wrap with dough, and repeat.  Let shells cool completely before filling.

I wrapped most of my shells and froze them since even I can't eat 30 cannoli.  
Important note:  Fill shells right before you're ready to serve, else those crisp and cracklin' shells will get soggy and we don't want that!

Before I get around to the fillings, lets go through the step-by-steps:

 I'm working with half the dough at a time to make things easier.
Lightly flour your work surface.


 Then start rolling out the dough.  As thin as you can.


 Cut dough out into rounds.

Wrap dough around tubes.

Brush with beaten egg white and press to seal.

My tubes came in a set of eight.


If you do any frying at all, invest in a thermometer.
Laser. Infra-red. Insta-read. 
It's worth it.

When your oil is hot(360°-ish), carefully place a tube in.

Then another one.

And another one.  I stopped at three.

Golden brown.  2 minutes or so.

And remove from the oil.

Drain and let cool.  
Then remove the shells, let the tubes cool completely, and continue the process.

My shells are ready for filling.

Now, the fillings are entirely up to you.
I can give you some basic ideas, and you can take it from there.
Typically, ricotta cheese is involved, but you could use sweetened whipped cream in a pinch.  Add some fruits and nuts, and you're good to go. 

I've got two fillings for you, both ricotta-based, but variations on the theme.  Depending on what fruits and nuts you have on hand, the possibilities are limitless.  For filling the cannoli, I scoop my stuffing into a plastic sandwich or zip-lock bag, cut the tip off, and squeeze. 

Filling #1:
(Enough to stuff 6 cannoli.)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. ricotta
2 TB sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla
Mix all together.
Add a couple of tablespoons of crushed pistachios to filling, saving some to press onto ends.  If you like, you can toast those pistachios to intensify the flavor.  Cool before using.
Pipe filling into cannoli.  
Blackberries are my fruit of choice with this filling.


For my next filling, I'm going with strawberries and pecans.

Filling #2:
(Enough for about 8 cannoli.)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. ricotta
2 oz. sour cream
1/4 cup sugar 
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped strawberries  Be sure the strawberries are finely chopped so they'll squirt through the baggie with the filling. 
 Mix all together and scoop into piping bag.
 Leave some larger strawberry slices for garnish.
And have some pecans for sprinkling around.


Friday, February 12, 2021

Keep On Shuckin’.

The Hawthornes love their oysters and I believe we’re on our sixth bushel this season. 
So, before the season ends, go get you some oysters and try these two presentations.
Oysters on the half shell.
The green ones are spinach based.  The red ones are paprika accented.
I make these a lot and there’s no real “recipe.”  They might vary a bit from batch to batch.  But I’m giving you the basics here and you can follow along, or you can adjust and modify a bit.  Either way, the oysters are going to be excellent.

Oooh.  Would you look a-there.  Got a bonus!  At the bottom right.
These are crab slough oysters.  And that’s pronounced “sloo.”  
The crab slough oyster is unique in that it is home to a critter called a pea crab.  Quite edible, and in fact considered a delicacy, the pea crab is sort of a freeloader in the oyster.  The oyster is a filter feeder, and the little crabbies which inhabit the oysters get first dibs on whatever comes their way.  

During my research, i.e. Googling, I discovered that “crab slough oyster” refers to not the crustacean, but to a location.  From  “The Outer Banks Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions from North Carolina’s Barrier Islands:”

Crab Slough is in Pamlico Sound at the southern end of Roanoke Island near Wanchese. It is a well-known area for harvesting prime oysters because the water, being near Oregon Inlet, is slightly rough. Because of the rough waters only single oysters, rather than large clumps, are formed. The water is rather brackish giving the oysters a deliciously salty taste. Frequently very tiny pea crabs, a gourmet treat when eaten whole, are found residing in the oysters.

   And now you know. 

    I’m preparing around 2 dozen oysters - whatever will fit in one of those large baking sheet pans.  Just keep on shuckin’ till you fill it up.  Half spinach.  Half paprika.  All wonderful.

       Spinach topped oysters:  
(Enough for a dozen oysters give or take.)
2 TB butter (I always use unsalted.)
2 TB finely chopped onion
big handful of spinach, chopped 
1-2 TB finely chopped fennel (optional, but I like the slight anise flavoring it provides)
splash of cream
grated mozzarella cheese
Ritz crackers, crushed
more butter
Note:  Amounts can be adjusted.  You can figger this out!

In a small skillet, melt the butter.  Add in the onion, spinach, and fennel and cook over medium heat for about a minute.  Pour in the cream - just enough to pull it all together.  Heat through and turn off heat.

Place a little of the spinach mixture on each oyster.
Add a little mozzarella, then top with the crushed Ritz.  (You could use breadcrumbs or some other cracker, but I like the buttery Ritz.)  Place a small pat of butter on top.

Run under the broiler until the crumbs are slightly browned.  Doesn't take long.  Say 450° for 5 minutes, but it depends on whether the oven is already heated and the distance from the element.  So, WATCH it!  Remember, you can't undercook an oyster, but you can overcook one.  I like my oysters juicy and sweet and salty and plump and overcooking overrides any of that.

Paprika Oysters
(For 1 dozen oysters, give or take.)
4 TB butter
1 ½ tsp paprika
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cayenne (Optional.  If you want a bit of bite, go ahead.)
Parmesan, grated
 panko breadcrumbs

Melt the butter and and stir in the paprika, sugar, and cayenne.
Spoon over oysters.  Grate Parmesan cheese over top then sprinkle breadcrumbs.
Run under a 450° broiler until cheese is melted and crumbs are golden brown.


Saturday, February 6, 2021

Rosie Makes A Banana And Pineapple Bundt Cake



 Do you ever have bananas on the counter that look like these?
They are fermenting away and I can smell them from across the room.

What to do?
What you DON'T do is throw 'em away.

What TO do?
Make cake. 

I'm using the bananas to make a banana and pineapple bundt cake.

And then I made a caramel sauce to pour over it.


Rosie's Banana Pineapple Bundt Cake

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 TB orange zest
3 eggs
1 TB vanilla
4 ultra-ripe bananas, chopped to mashed  (If they're super-ripe, you really can't chop 'em.  They mash up all by themselves.)
1 small can (8.25 oz.) chopped pineapple with juice
1 cup chopped pecans
3 1/3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Heat oven to 325°.
Butter and flour a bundt pan.
In large bowl, beat butter..  Gradually add in sugar, beating until fluffy.  Beat in eggs, vanilla, and zest until well combined.  Stir in bananas, pineapple, and pecans.  Add in flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and stir until just combined.  Pout batter into prepared bundt pan and bake at 325° for 60 minutes, or until toothpick comes out fairly clean.  A few crumbs on the pick are fine.  Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto rack.  Don't force the cake out of the pan.  Let gravity work.



It was luscious.

Caramel Sauce
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup cream
Combine all ingredients in medium sauce pan.
Bring to a boil over medium heat and let simmer for 3-4 minutes.
Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla.
Pour over cake.

Use as much sauce as you like.  If you have any left over, pour it over ice cream.  It's grand!