Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Best Kept Secret

I absolutely love Cannolis. It's a wonderful anytime dessert that's easy to make and enjoyable to eat. If you've ever wanted to be the Belle of the ball, just make this recipe and you will be.

The shells are a little more difficult to make so I'm not even going to include the recipe, however, if you do want the recipe, just leave me a note by clicking on the pencil located at the bottom of this post and I'll email it to you.

The easiest thing to do is buy the shells pre-made. You can find them in various supermarkets: Shop-rite, Whole Foods, AJ's, if you're from Arizona, or order them from Amazon. The shells are packaged in a plastic container with a bed for each shell so they won't crumble before you get them home. Of course, if you drop them, all bets are off.

 Here's the recipe I promised with the best kept secret revealed,


3 cups Ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup finely chopped candied citrus
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces (I use the mini)

Pistachio nuts, finely chopped (Optional)
Chocolate sprinkles (Optional)

Here's the secret: drain the ricotta in cheesecloth for three days prior to making the cannolis.  I have no idea why no one ever tells you, or if they do, they say if the ricotta is watery, drain. If you remove the lid from the container, it never looks watery and that's where the problem arises. I promise you that if you do this the way I'm telling you, you'll be amazed at how well your pastry will come out. If you take a shortcut and don't drain the water out of the ricotta, your filling will be so runny, it won't stay in the cannoli shell and run out like a faucet. Here's how to do it.

Cut four pieces of cheesecloth into 12" long strips. Place the two pieces on top of one another so you have two double strips. Now, place the first strip down onto the counter and the second piece so it looks like a cross.  Empty the contents of the ricotta into the center of the cheesecloth, bring all four corners up to the center and tie them together.

Using a knitting needle, or a wooden spoon, slip the end through the tie and let the sack hang over a deep bowl so the sack is not touching the bottom. Allow the whey to drain from the cheese for three days in the refrigerator. 

When it comes time to make the filling, remove from the refrigerator, add the ricotta into a mixer bowl with the vanilla and sugar and beat on medium-high speed until smooth. This will take about 10 minutes, so don't lose patience. I promise you, it will be worth it.

Stir in the candied fruit and chocolate piece, mixing by hand. Return filling to refrigerator to chill. Make sure these are finely chopped because they will clog your pastry tip if you don't.

Line up your shells on a tray. Using a pastry bag, fit a #10 round tip on the end of the bag to pipe the filling into each end of the mini-shells, or the extra large round tip for the larger shells. 

If you're using the pistachio nuts or the sprinkles, dip each end of the filled cannoli into the dish to coat, place on a serving dish and return to the refrigerator. Just before serving, dust the tops of the shells with confectioners sugar.

A word of caution. FILL THE SHELLS AN HOUR BEFORE serving. Even though you've drained the ricotta, some moisture remains and will do what we chefs call 'weep'. If that happens, your shells will be soggy.

Take photos of your cannolis and I'll post the pictures on this blog.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I’m banging my head against the wall right now because the light bulb just blinked on wondering why it’s taken so freakin’ long to figure this out. What, you say?

As most bloggers will tell you, trying to come up with something that’s a subject you’ll enjoy reading about isn’t always easy. Writing for the holidays is, but its the other 300 some days that aren't, and like most, I draw a blank because I’m focused on the latest book I’m writing.

 So here’s the epiphany: Why not write about something I know? Food! Now, for cripes sake, was that so hard? Geesh! 

And here's more good news that I'm very excited about. I'll be writing a second blog for mystery lovers, talking about unsolved crimes to see if we can figure out the who dunnit or what's going on in the news today. The title of that blog is: It's Murder in the First! I hope you'll subscribe to both. IMITF should be up in a few days and I'll post the link as soon as it's finished. I'll also have a link on both blogs for those of you who are interesting in reading both.

Beginning today, I will be posting as often as I can squeeze in the time in between writing and edits on a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ll be giving you tips and shortcuts, recipes and some funny stories to go with it. If the recipe I post is contained in one of my Chef Toque series, I’ll mention which novel. 

Welcome to my kitchen.This particular meal is a favorite of my family’s and there’s nothing better than a hot bowl of Chili served with a warm cornbread slathered with honey butter and a glass of Rosenblum Zinfandel on a cold wintery night. So grab a glass of wine, relax in your comfy chair and enjoy the ride through my kitchen.


1 tbls olive oil                                                                             2 tbls chili powder
4 cloves garlic, minced                                                               2 tbls ground cumin
1 lg. onion, diced                                                                        1 tsp dried thyme
2 red peppers, diced                                                                    1 tsp dried basil
4 lg. carrots, diced                                                                       ¼ tsp oregano
1 lb ground beef                                                                          ½ tsp cayenne pepper optional
1 lb ground pork                                                                          1 can beer – any kind will do
2-15 oz cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed                           4 oz dark chocolate
2-15 oz cans diced tomatoes                                                                                                        

Using a 5 quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the garlic, onion, peppers, carrots, beef, pork and simmer until the meat is no longer pink.

Measure out the dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients and thoroughly mix together making sure to incorporate completely.  Now you may add the beer, diced tomatoes and kidney beans, again mixing until combined. Save the chocolate for last. Allow to simmer for approximately 1 hour. Twenty minutes before serving, break the chocolate apart and add to the mixture allowing it to melt into the chili. Stir and serve with sour cream.

8 dinner servings

Chef's note: Follow this same recipe for a vegetarian version by omitting the meat.

This recipe can also be found in Dishing Up Romance.

Friday, March 6, 2015


Who’s the most hated woman in America? If you had asked a few years ago, you would have heard a resounding Casey Anthony. Today however, as I’m sure you know from the media circus that’s been commandeering the various outlets, is whom I call, the Queen of Cool—Jodi Arias.  

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this woman is cool at all. I think she’s the Queen of Deceit who obviously thought her good looks and cleverly thought out calm demeanor was going to free her from the heinous crime she’d committed on June 4, 2008 when she took Travis Alexander’s life.
Let’s take a look at the facts: Ms. Arias is currently a 32 year old wholesome-looking, attractive woman, who appears as though she couldn’t hurt a fly. But from what we’ve learned through her own admission, and the evidence presented—is not the sweetheart she pretends to be. And the jury certainly didn’t think so when they convicted her of pre-meditated 1st degree murder of her former lover, Travis Alexander. A man she stabbed multiple times over his entire body, slit his throat right through to his spine, then ultimately shot him in the head, right above his eyebrow that ended the final chapter of what would have been a budding career and bright future!  Why such a horrific crime? She claims it was self-defense. But if she really believed that, why did she run off and try to cover up what happened? Why did she clean his apartment afterward, wash the bloody towels, and even run his camera through the washing machine? Why did she run the dishwasher? There was a knife in the basket, but it’s unclear as to whether it was the actual knife. Why did she lie to the police by saying she hadn’t been there? And then when they presented evidence to the contrary, why did she change her story and admit she was there when two masked intruders broke in?  

So what happened? What caused this woman to commit such a brutal crime? The experts say it was a jealous rage when she found out the victim was ending it with her.

Below is timeline of events.
In September of 2006, Jodi and Travis met at a work convention in Las Vegas. At the time, he was a motivational speaker and legal insurance salesman; she was a photographer who was seeking a position as a salesman. 

She was from California, he, from Arizona. Travis Alexander was a Mormon.
The two had an immediate attraction for one another and started dating. In November of that same year, Arias was baptized a Mormon, which was sponsored by Travis in a ceremony in Utah.
The two dated until June 2007 when they broke up, but they continued to see each other for sex. I guess neither took their vow of celibacy to heart. At the time, Jodi was living with her grandparents in California but later decided to move to Arizona where she took a job waiting tables and also cleaned Travis’ apartment for extra cash. And that’s where she found out that Travis was taking another woman on vacation with him. And according to one of the expert witnesses; this is what set her off.  She then moved back to her grandparents’ home in California.

In May of 2008, Arias’ grandparents reported a .25 caliber gun had been stolen from their home. Pictures presented during trial show the gun cabinet with a pile of loose change spread over top that went untouched.

On June 4, 2008, Arias decided to take a road trip to Utah to see another friend/love interest, but decided to take a detour to visit Travis. According to testimony, they had wild sex, took provocative photographs of each other, and afterward, she brutally murdered him and stuffed him into the shower. After her attempts to cover up what she’d done, she left and continued her trip to Utah as though nothing had happened. She even left a voicemail for Travis asking where he was.

On June 9, 2008, friends of Travis’ became concerned about his unexplained absence and visited his home only to find his dead body.  They called 911. When questioned by the police, his sister immediately gave them Jodi’s name. This is when Jodi’s denial began to crumble despite her insistence otherwise. This is when the camera she laundered in the washing machine defied her and ultimately produced the photographs from that fateful day that Travis Alexander was brutally murdered. Illicit photographs of their naked bodies, Travis’ bloodied body were reproduced off the card showing the date and time stamp. And interestingly enough, forensics determined the gun that was used to kill Travis was also a .25 caliber—just like the one stolen from Arias’ grandparents house. Neither the gun nor the knife was ever found. Jodi later claimed she threw them out into the desert but can’t remember where.

An overly confident Jodi appeared on Inside Edition and told her interviewer on live television, No jury is going to convict me. I am innocent, and you can mark my words on that. When asked why she smiled and posed for her mug shot, she claims there was no reason for her to feel bad because she was innocent. While describing the booking process, she said, her first thought was, ‘Wow,” she repeated, “this is just how they show it on television. She further commented that since her picture was going to be all over the Internet, why not smile and say cheese? Jodi’s mug shot>>)
Here is the link to the evidence presented by the state. 

And then the Walls of Jericho came tumbling down and Jodi Arias was no longer able to lie. In August of 2010 she changed her story for the third time. She finally admitted to killing Travis. But now, her claim is self-defense. She said it all started after she had dropped Travis’ new camera. He yelled at her, which immediately led to his name-calling and body slamming her against the tile, apparently a frequent occurrence. She managed to get away and ran to his closet, grabbed a gun he had on the shelf, and pointed it at him never intending to pull the trigger, but to scare him. Contrary to this latest claim of brutality, during those eighteen days she testified, Jodi sang Travis’ praises as to how well he treated her.

In the end, Jodi’s testimony did her no favors because the jurors got to see the real Jodi, the Jodi who was the manipulative, conniving and cunning Jodi, who hoped her performance would sway the jurors. During her testimony, her eyes never wandered away from those twelve people. Not once did she say she was sorry for killing him. Not once did she show those jurors she had any remorse for killing him. Nope. Day after day, she sat up on that stand and acted as calm as cucumber. She answered the questions in a succinct manner as though she’d rehearsed each and every one—and chances are, she probably had.

The penal code in the Arizona court system is different from many other states in that the jurors are allowed to ask the defendant questions about their testimony. This jury hit her with 150 questions.

May 8, 2013, some five months later, Jodi Arias was convicted of 1st degree murder, and the jury was released for the night. They were advised the next day would be the final phase of the trial when they would get to decide her fate—life or death. The first step in the two-step phase of sentencing was for the jury to decide if Travis Alexander’s death was an especially cruel, depraved and heinous death. If so, she’d be eligible for the death penalty.
A reporter snuck in and interviewed her after the verdict was read. Jodi said she felt betrayed by the jury. What? She thought they were her friends? The one thing I noticed when the jury filed out one by one was Jodi stood and glared at each one as they exited.

The next day arrived and it was now the jury’s task to decide if Travis’ death was pre-meditated and if it was done in a heinous act of violence. In other words, was he aware of what was happening; was he in pain, etc? The experts say, absolutely. He was fighting for his life. They unanimously agreed. After it was announced, the defense asked for a polling of the jurors, to which each strongly voiced their affirmative vote.

Before the next phase, the Alexander family was given the opportunity to give an impact statement of what Travis’ death has done to them. Their voice weighs heavily on the defendant’s fate. They’ve asked the jury to come back with the death penalty. Behind closed doors the jury deliberated once again for many hours to no avail. They could not reach an agreement. Eight jurors said the death penalty, while four jurors said life in prison. When they announced it to the judge, she explained what it would mean if she had to declare a mistrial. She sent them back and told them to try harder. They spent the next day deliberating and ultimately came back with the same results.
At this point, the judge has no choice but to declare a mistrial only on the sentencing. It has nothing to do with the verdict. What this mistrial means is another twelve people will have to be selected to decide her fate. What else does this mean? It can take months before they can even decide because they must read over every single detail of the previous trial, examine the evidence and ask questions.  
Plaintiff’s attorney can spare us the costs involved by taking the death penalty off the table, but I highly doubt the Alexander family will be satisfied with that. His one sister is a police officer—not in Arizona, but they have pretty strong beliefs in the judicial system.

This was to take place in July, but who knows what happened, but has been rescheduled for September 8, 2014 when another twelve jurors determine her fate. Let’s hope this has a better outcome than the last trial. The one thing that’s certain is there won’t be a media circus because this phase will be behind closed doors.

If this second panel fails to reach a unanimous decision, the death penalty will be removed from consideration. The judge then would sentence Arias to spend her entire life behind bars or to be eligible for release after 25 years.

In the meantime, what is the now, 33 year-old Jodi doing? She’s behind bars, in a tiny cell that only contains a bed, a toilet and a sink. Her food is delivered through a slot in the door. She remains in confinement for twenty-three hours a day with one hour to breathe in fresh air. She sees no other inmates nor is she allowed more than three showers a week.

October, 2015

Another jury is selected for a second sentencing retrial. I won't go into all the gory details, but here's the outcome.

The jurors deliberated for 26.5 hours over a five-day span. Earlier this week, Arias' attorneys said jurors were at an impasse, but the judge denied a mistrial request. A verdict does not rule out the possibility of a hung jury. 

Chris Hughes, a friend of Alexander, told KPHO that a hung jury would be frustrating.
"My personal opinion is that she earned the death penalty," Hughes said. "I would be OK with life in prison, if she never gets out again, but she deserves the life of a death row inmate."

THE VERDICT? In an 11-1 vote, we have another hung jury. which takes the death penalty off the table and gives her 25 years where she can be freed to walk out of prison to pick up her life where she left off. Will she have learned her lesson or will she kill again? I guess we'll have to wait and see. 
Now I ask you, what do you think about this verdict?