"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Most of you know that the quote “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” comes from the movie, The Godfather. Click the link. I'm sure if I we lived in a world run by the Corleone family Fat Clemenza would off me in a second if he knew that I made cannoli filling out of soft and bland tofu instead of sweetened ricotta cheese. He might take it easy on me though since I paired the cannoli with a double strength coffee con panna, made from an aluminum Moka pot, topped with chocolate shavings.

Never in a million years did I think that someone was going to ask to see a dish made with tofu. Tofu is challenging but not too bad. It’s neutral in flavor and can be used to replace any dish that calls for ricotta: ravioli, calzones, crepes, and cannoli. Full of ideas and anxious to get started a visit to a local Italian bakery inspired me to leave the gun and take the cannoli, or at least the shells.

The bakery, which is owned by (I found out later), the president of SimplyBread, Harold S. Back. He didn’t have any fresh bread to sell me. He said that they just bought the bakery the day before and was remodeling the kitchen. He insisted that I take cookies for the inconvenience.

He had one of the warmest smiles that I ever witnessed and wouldn’t take no for an answer. “No need to twist my arm,” I said. His smile got bigger and he started filling a bright orange cake box full of thumbprint cookies with a semi-sweet jelly, amaretti, and Italian tri color cookies.

Simultaneously he handed me cookies to eat while I waited for him to fill the box to the top with a variety of Italian treats. I enjoyed watching him shift from side to side quickly and gracefully behind the display case as much as I did the mouth full of cookies. Off to the side in another case I noticed six golden brown and perfectly shaped cannoli shells.

It hit me right smack in the face. Loving cannoli and the thought of not having to make the shells I couldn't help but blurt out, “would it be ok if I take those cannoli shells off your hand?” Without hesitating he closed the sliding door to the case he was pulling cookies from, tossed the cookie box to his other hand, made a quick shuffle with his feet, opened the other case door and added the shells on top of the couple of dozen cookies that were already perfectly placed.

Cannoli shells and cookies in hand I didn’t care that he didn't have what I originally wanted. To give you an idea how kind he was, when I thanked him for his generosity he thanked me for coming in to his new bakery.

Not having to make the shells was a life saver because making the filling took much longer than I anticipated. It took me several hours of straining, creaming, adding thickeners, and more straining, before I got the right consistency. Learning from a lot of trial and error I refined the recipe and tried it again and had much better success the second time. Total time for the filling should be about 30 minutes.

To make about 10-12 medium cannoli (for the shells see recipes or visit your local bakery), bring 1/2 C of Whole Milk, 1/4 C of sugar, just under 1 T of cornstarch, 1/2 vanilla bean, 2 T of orange juice, and a pinch of salt, to a boil. Whisk consistently and reduce heat until thickened. Set the mixture aside for about 20-25 minutes to infuse the vanilla bean.

Strain the liquid into a bowl and remove the bean. In the meantime take 12 oz of silky tofu, 3 T of honey, ½ t of vanilla extract, and 1 t of cinnamon and puree it in a food processor. Chill it until the warm mixture is completely infused. Combine both mixtures into the food processor and puree it until it’s thick and creamy.

Refrigerate the filling until your ready to pipe it into the cannoli shells. Once the shells are filled dip the edges in chopped toasted pistachios, dust with powder sugar, and inhale only after you take your first bite.

Thanks MD for putting me to the test. I hope you enjoyed the cannoli as much as I enjoyed working on them.

Keep them coming!

I am having a lot of fun reading your replies to the email I sent out last week that asked for your support. Right now I should be pureeing tofu for one of you but as the days go on I’m getting more and more feedback, requests, and questions that are keeping me in a place that I’m the happiest; the kitchen.

Before I reply to your emails I want to take my thinking cap and apron off and say thank you. I can’t say it enough how much I appreciate all of your support. You have my word that I will reply to your emails and comments with educated answers and ideas as fast as I can. Thank you again and keep the emails coming.

Stay tuned for how I tweak one of my favorite desserts using, hopefully will not be a disappointment to you MD, a silky tofu as the base instead of ricotta.

Here’s a hint on what I'm making. The hint is a quote from, what is said by many, the best gangster movie ever made. "Leave the gun. Take the _____." Any guesses?

A summer's Christmas and tomato sauce

Growing up in the Midwest my family would anxiously await the warm weather to prep the aisles and aisles of seeds and old wooden stakes. It took several weeks of nurturing the young plants; making sure their supports were sturdy enough to hold the coming of the tall thick vines of a favorite summer produce.

Before we knew it the rows of rugged stakes had vines that wrapped around and grew upwards in a way that seemed to never end. A glance at the mature plants looked like Christmas trees full of a variety of colored ornaments. It was truly a Christmas in July that would last until early October.

One of the things that I like about cooking with seasonal produce is that you don’t have to do much to it to enjoy its natural flavors. With about a month left in the season I’m going to take advantage of cooking with the natural tartness, sweetness, and earthiness of those vibrant red vine grown tomatoes.

Taking advantage of the last bit of the peak season, I picked up a couple of softball size tomatoes to make about a cup and a half of a simple sweet, tart, and deep-flavored chunky tomato sauce that would accompany a bed of penne, mushrooms, fresh basil, and shrimp.

The first step in getting your meez together is to boil water for your pasta; I used about two handfuls of penne which will make enough for three or four. Here’s a tip that you can use to save time and for perfect timing for plating. Bring the water to boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Because the water is simmering just under the boiling point it will take just a few seconds to bring the water back to boil once you’re ready to add pasta .

While you are waiting for the water to boil take a cored tomato and score the opposite side of it. Place the tomato into boiling water and remove after about 20 seconds, then place immediately into an ice water bath. You should then be able to remove the skin and seeds easily (concasse tomatoes), and chop them into chunks.

In a sauce pan, on medium heat, sweat (about a tablespoon or two of) diced shallots and garlic in olive oil. Once you get a whiff of the wonderful aromas continue to sweat them for about a minute longer. From this point add a couple of tablespoons of white wine, the concasse tomatoes, pinch of salt, and a dash of red pepper flake.

*Turn up the heat to bring your simmering water to boil and cook and drain your pasta.

Simmer your tomato sauce for about 10 minutes before adding about a 1/8 cup of mushrooms, your preference. Simmer the sauce and mushrooms for another 3 minutes and then add a couple of basil leafs and simmer for another 2 minutes.

The pasta should be drained, dry, and plated. Top the pasta with the tomato and mushroom sauce, remove cooked basil. Add mozzarella, fresh basil, and ready to eat shrimp. Shrimp is optional. I had shrimp that needed to be used so I added those at the last second. But it’s not necessary. It did however add a nice contrast of temperature and texture to my sauce.

After a couple of bites into the fresh vine grown tomato sauce I closed my eyes and all I could see is the Christmas in July that I grew up enjoying in the Midwest.