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Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

Piece of Cake

Buying my first house was a huge step. The experience was filled with a thrill, panic, and excitement that I’ll never forget! I shared some horror stories in my last post, but homeownership has its upsides. I bought a historic row home from the late 1800s with beautiful exposed brick and a charm that makes me happy to come home.

I recently converted the inside panels of my kitchen cabinets into a magnetic spice rack. Out of all the DIY projects I’ve worked on this past year, this has been my favorite! I was able to clear an entire shelf of precious cabinet real estate and now I can see my spices front and center. I documented the process with my iPhone.

before: spice cabinet in disarray
spice cabinet disarray
materials for project
materials for project

If you plan on doing this, make sure you use gloves while working with the sheet metal. The edges are extremely sharp! I ended up cutting two pieces of sheet metal by hand using the snips in the photo. They came out ok, but not perfectly straight. It also took a really long time and considerable effort to cut each piece. That’s when I decided to called a few local metal fabricators. One of them was really nice and helped me cut the remaining two pieces perfectly straight using their industrial-sized cutter. I wish I had a picture of this — their machine was huge! It took less than a second per cut and they came out perfect.

measuring & marking the panel
measuring & marking the panel

The inside of my cabinets have a little curve at the top that I wanted to recreate in the sheet metal. The metal fabricator who cut the metal for me recommended I do this part by hand. I traced the curvature of the cabinet onto a sheet of paper. Then I cut the paper into a stencil that I used to re-trace the curve onto the sheet metal.

sand away the rough edges
sand away the rough edges

Sanding metal is important to remove any sharp edges. Interestingly enough, it also helps remove any scratches. The best way to get rid of scratches on the sheet metal are to blend them in with more scratches. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it works.

clean cabinets
cleaning cabinets

Before you can adhere the sheet metal to the inside of the cabinet, you have to make sure the cabinet is clean and dry. Unmount the cabinet doors from the hinges and wipe them clean with your favorite cleaner. Make sure the doors are completely dry before moving on to the next step.

100% silicone caulk
100% silicone caulk

Use 100% silicone caulk to mount the sheet metal to the inside of the cabinet doors. Apply the silicone liberally, but not too close to the edge so that it doesn’t ooze out from the sides.


Apply some weights on the sheet metal while the silicone cures. This is a good time to go do something else: watch a movie, read a book, etc. I left my cabinets like this for a few hours to make sure the silicone had set.

the final project
the final product

Once the silicone has finished curing, you can mount the doors back on their hinge. Fill your spice tins with your favorite spices and you’re set!

clear labels
clear labels

I hope you enjoyed this DIY post! Now, onto the food. If you haven’t tried this Sicilian Orange-Infused Olive Oil cake from Saveur, you absolutely must. The recipe calls for two entire oranges that get pureed into the batter, skin, flesh, and everything. This is a common technique in Italy; it helps impart a wonderful citrus flavor.

I discovered this recipe while living in Italy back in 2007. My host mom made it for me a couple of times. She didn’t follow any recipe. She made it from memory and it came out perfect each time. This is the closest I’ve come to recreating my host mom’s cake.

2007: Making biscotti with my Italian host mom
mise en place
mise en place
cut oranges into quarters
cut oranges into quarters
boil orange quarters thrice
boil orange quarters twice
pureed oranges
pureed oranges
pour batter into cake pan
pour batter into cake pan
simple orange glaze
simple orange glaze
apply glaze
apply glaze
piece of cake!

Orange-Infused Olive Oil Cake

yields 1 cake


  • 2 oranges
  • 2 ⅓ cups sugar
  • unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
  • 2½ cups flour, plus more for pan
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Sea salt, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Trim the tops and bottoms of the oranges — enough to barely expose the flesh.
  2. Quarter the oranges lengthwise.
  3. Bring 6 cups water to a boil and add the quartered oranges. Bring the water back to a boil and drain. Repeat this process twice more with fresh water. This will help cut the bitterness in the orange.
  4. Put oranges, 1 cup sugar, and 4 cups water into a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves and the orange rind can be easily pierced with a knife (about 30 minutes). Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  5. Heat oven to 350°. Grease a bundt pan with butter and dust with flour.
  6. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
  7. Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and puree the orange quartered in a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky purée.
  8. Add remaining sugar, flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs, olive oil, and process until incorporated, about 1 minute.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes.
  10. In a small bowl, whisk fresh orange juice and confectioners’ sugar to make a thin glaze.
  11. Remove cake from pan and transfer to a cake stand or plate. Brush orange glaze over top and sides of cake; let cool completely. Garnish cake with salt.

Note: Recipe modified slightly from Saveur.


cake served

Vegas Decadence Packed in a Brioche Panini

Vegas is all about one thing: over the top, elaborate, in-your-face, decadence. On my trip to Vegas last week I noticed that was a recurring theme. Gelato at 11 o’clock at night. Extravagant shows put on by Cirque du Soleil. The world’s largest chocolate fountain. Vegas is decadent. Sure, some people perceive its decadence in other more “lewd” ways, but I was there to experience the amazing food. I also learned how to play Craps along the way, but that’s a different blog post.

I uploaded more photos from my Vegas trip to Flickr.

Wynn Hotel
wynn hotel
Beignets Filled with Oozing Chocolate

Restaurant: The Country Club

SW Steak House

Restaurant: SW SteakHouse

Kobe Beef Carpaccio

Restaurant: The Country Club

Duck Coated in a Fig-BBQ Sauce Served on Brioche Bun

Restaurant: The Country Club

Lots of love at Jean Philippe Patisserie
jean philippe patisserie

Restaurant: Jean Philippe Pattisserie

Out of all the dishes I had that week, my absolute favorite, which was not an easy decision to arrive at (as you could see), featured house-made elk sausage. It was the only dish I ordered twice that week. I don’t usually order a dish twice, but I had to make an exception. It was that good. The sausage, you see, was served on a bed of a marble potato hash cooked with pancetta and a mix of sweet peppers and onions. And gracefully balanced atop of the elk sausage rested a perfectly poached egg. It was perfect — no undercooked egg white and a barely warm yolk, still very runny of course. In order to qualify for Las Vegas decadence status, however, you need that extra something. That extra something, in this case, was the beautifully prepared, buttery choron sauce. If you’ve never had choron sauce, just think béarnaise with a bit of tomato purée. Instead of the puree, however, the chef incorporated a fine dice of sun dried tomatoes to achieve a similar flavor with added texture.

Elk Sausage Served with Poached Eggs and Choron Sauce
elk sausage

Restaurant: Tableau

Me and Chef Timothy Henderson at Tableau
chef at Tableau

Photo Credit: M. Scott Smith

Today, I decided to pay tribute to Las Vegas with an equally decadent blog post. I didn’t have to look too far since I have plenty of decadent brioche left over from my previous post. You can’t tell from the photos, but I had made 2 batches of brioche, which left me with 4 total loaves, and 6 sticks of butter less in the fridge. But that’s not enough. In order to come close to Vegas-level decadence, I needed something more. I needed that charon sauce — something to take this already rich bread to new levels of decadence. Chocolate was the answer (as it almost always is).

mise en place
mise en place

With some spotty bananas sitting on my counter, I decided to turn some of my left over brioche into mini chocolate-banana panini.

wait, wait… some extra chocolate
extra chocolate
panini press
panini press
chocolate-banana brioche panini
chocolate-banana brioche panini

Chocolate-Banana Brioche Panini

yields 4 panini


  • 4 thick slices of brioche (1/2 inch)
  • High Quality Dark Chocolate (50-70% Cocoa)*, medium chop
  • thinly sliced bananas

Putting them all together

  1. Cut each slice of brioche in half.
  2. Layer chocolate chunks topped with a few slices of banana and an extra sprinkling of chocolate. The chocolate will act as a glue and keep the bananas in place.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a panini press or on a skillet over a burner*.

Notes: I used Callebaut Chocolate for these panini, although any high quality dark chocolate also works — El Rey (Venezuela) and Valrhona (France) are a couple of my favorite brands. You could also make your own panini press by placing your sandwich in a large skillet over medium heat and topping it with another heated skillet (cast iron works best because it’s heavy).


oozing chocolate, creamy banana, buttery brioche — decadence accomplished
chocolate, banana, brioche

Yogurt, plain and simple

Throughout the two-plus years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never dedicated a post exclusively to yogurt. I’ve used it as an ingredient here and there, sure, but it’s never played a leading role. That’s not acceptable. Not for a Mediterranean food blog, at least. I plan on changing that today.

On my recent trip to Aleppo I was reminded how important yogurt is in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s everywhere. Cow, goat or sheep. Strained, plain or cooked. In the Levant there’s even a popular refreshing drink called Ayraan (عيران) that’s made from yogurt, but more on that later. Today I need to set things right. Today is all about yogurt.

Before we begin, I’d like to dispel the myth that suggests you should buy a fancy yogurt maker to incubate your milk. Please don’t. If you already have, I won’t hold it against you, but you really don’t need one. If the machine made the job any easier, I can understand, but the truth is, making yogurt is pretty simple.

While I was in Aleppo, Leila (my maternal grandfather’s brother’s wife’s sister), shared with me her way of making yogurt. Take a look:

Before I met Leila, I used to make my yogurt in the pot I heated the milk in. Not anymore. I really like her idea of dispensing the yogurt into smaller jars.

mise en place

Midway through the process (usually as the yogurt is cooling), I like to turn on my oven to the lowest setting and turn it off after 5 minutes. This helps keep my oven barely warm enough to properly incubate the yogurt — which is essentially what the yogurt machine does, except it doesn’t cost extra money and doesn’t limit how much yogurt you can make.

heating the milk

Once you heat the milk to 180 degrees F (a near boil), you need to cool it. I like to use a thermometer, particularly for this step, so that the yogurt starter has an ideal environment to initialize the incubation process. That temperature should be between 107 and 112 degrees F (41 and 44 degrees C).

nestled inside the oven

Since the pizza stone in my oven can retain lots of heat (as can the metal rails), I like to line the base with a kitchen towel before placing the jars of yogurt inside the oven. Then, as Leila mentioned in the video, you want to cover the jars with another towel so they remain warm throughout the incubation.

plain goat milk yogurt

Keep the jars overnight in the oven and move them to the fridge first thing in the morning. It’s that simple — saha wa hana (صحة و هنا)/bon appetit!

Homemade Yogurt

Makes 1/2 gallon


  • 1/2 gallon milk*
  • 10g yogurt starter*

Putting them all together

  1. Heat milk to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) over medium heat.
  2. Cool the milk between 107-112 degrees F (41-44 C) and slowly mix in the yogurt starter.
  3. Dispense the milk into 4-5, 16 oz. jars.
  4. Place the jars inside a barely warm oven lined with a kitchen towel and cover them with another towel to keep them warm throughout the incubation process.
  5. After 6-8 hours (or overnight) move the jars into the fridge and store until ready to use.

notes: If you don’t have yogurt starter you can use any plain yogurt that has live active cultures. Usually I like to go with the Organic Stonyfield Plain Yogurt. You’ll also get better results by using full-fat milk — 2% milk won’t get nearly as creamy.


I scream(ed)

I find that when you don’t know how to go about saying something, it’s best to come out and say it. I learned this when I was younger. It’s like pulling off a bandaid…

My Canon Rebel died last week.

It hurt me to even type that, but it’s the truth. If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to leave your camera with a hotel for a couple hours after checkout, don’t do it. I hate to sound jaded, but that’s how my Canon met its horrible fate. The hotel is still investigating the matter, which, I hope, is not code for, let’s see how we could get out of this. So far they’ve been relatively kind and helpful, but I’m still waiting for them to make things right.

The last thing I photographed before my trip was a chocolate hazelnut ice cream. I stumbled upon this recipe for gianduia gelato on epicurious and couldn’t pass it up — it’s like Nutella ice cream. Despite the relatively positive reviews, I added my own twist by spiking the gelato base with hazelnut liqueur. Although it did not bring my camera back, I was happy to find the leftover gelato waiting for me in my freezer after I came home from my dismal trip.

mise en place

The recipe calls for peeled, toasted hazelnuts, ground and steeped in hot milk. I’ve always peeled my hazelnuts by toasting them and rubbing them between a kitchen towel. While this method doesn’t get rid of all the skin, it does a great job of getting rid of most of it with very little effort. There’s also what has been dubbed the Julia Child technique, which requires you to boil the hazelnuts in water with baking soda until the water turns dark. Then you have to allow them to cool before you can peel the skins off. Either method works, although for this recipe, I don’t think you need to worry about getting all the peel off because you’ll be straining everything two steps later.

peeled hazelnuts

Pulse the peeled and toasted hazelnuts with sugar. Remember, the finer you grind your hazelnuts (i.e. the more surface area there is), the more hazelnut flavor will be infused into the milk. I went with a coarse cornmeal grind, but I feel like I could’ve gone further than that.

hazelnuts & sugar

Once the hazelnuts steep in the hot milk for 20-30 minutes, you’ve essentially drawn out most of their flavor. I do not recommend reusing these. If you’re craving gelato with some texture, I recommend setting aside some of the toasted hazelnuts and folding them into the semi-frozen base once it comes out of the ice cream maker.

the last drop has the most flavor, so push

Rule number one: never add cornstarch to a hot liquid without diluting. My solution was to dilute the cornstarch in hazelnut liqueur before adding it to the strained milk mixture.

spiked cornstarch slurry

Once the mixture comes to a boil and reaches its maximum thickening potential, mix in your chocolate. I used a Callebaut 60% chocolate.


The next step is to let your mixture cool completely before adding it to your ice cream maker. The best thing, in my opinion, is to let it go overnight. The colder the ice cream base is before it goes into the ice cream maker, the less ice crystals will form, and the smoother your ice cream will be.

cooled ice cream base

Since this gelato recipe uses cornstarch as a thickener, the base looks almost like a pudding after it is cooled; this is normal. Make sure to taste the base before putting it into the ice cream maker — not only is this a good habit in terms of making sure everything is seasoned correctly, but the base alone makes for an awesome chocolate hazelnut pudding.

gianduia gelato

If you use the ice cream attachment on your kitchen aid, as I did, make sure to whip as little air into the gelato base (i.e. keep your mixer on the lowest setting). This will help create the silky, slow-churned texture that gelato is known for.

chocolate hazelnut gelato

Gianduia Gelato

yields approx 1 quart


  • 2 cups hazelnuts (8 ounces), toasted , skins rubbed off, and cooled
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3 tbsp hazelnut liqueur
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), finely chopped

Putting them all together

  1. Pulse toasted and peeled hazelnuts with sugar in a food processor. The result should resemble a coarse cornmeal texture.
  2. Combine the hazelnut mixture and the milk in a heavy-bottom medium sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it reaches a boil, cover and set aside for 20-30 minutes.
  3. A couple minutes before the hazelnuts are done steeping in the milk, combine the hazelnut liqueur with the cornstarch to make a slurry. If the mixture is still a too thick (i.e. or clumpy), add cold milk to thin it out some more.
  4. Strain the ground hazelnuts from the milk mixture and discard.
  5. Return the strained milk to the medium sauce pot, stir in the the cornstarch slurry and boil over medium heat for 2 minutes, making sure to stir constantly. The mixture will be thick.
  6. Remove from heat and mix in the finely chopped chocolate.
  7. Chill the base in the refrigerator overnight, or at least for 4-6 hours, then put it into your ice cream maker to make the gelato.
  8. When complete, transfer the gelato to an air-tight container and freeze until ready to eat.

note: recipe adapted from


all done

the secret to a greener pesto

Seattle was beautiful. It was refreshing. It was sunny the entire 5 days I was visiting – a miracle, considering it rains roughly 80% of the time out there. I did get back to Annapolis about two weeks ago, but less than 24 hours after my plane landed, I was back at the airport to pick up my parents. My mom had been here before, but this was my dad’s first time at my new place. That means I put everything aside, my blog included, and showed them a good time.

my friends and I in Seattle

(left to right: Me, Charles, Paul, Andy and Nick)

I was in Seattle for the 2009 Web Design World Conference. If you’re into web design and development and ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it. The speakers were all leaders in their respective fields and gave engaging presentations; these were a few of my favorites: Jared Spool (UI mastermind), Shawn Henry (Queen of Accessibility), Dan Rubin (CSS ninja) and Cameron Moll (design guru).

if only I had a kitchen in my hotel room

Pike Place Market was probably my favorite place to walk around in Seattle. It somehow manages to embody the small town feel of a local market, but on a large scale. The vendors, although swarming with clients, had conversations with you, jugglers and singers entertained small crowds, and best of all, the quality and selection of local produce was unbelievable – it was a fun place to be.

rockin’ local veggies

The market stands were filled with beautiful local vegetables, and the competing venders kept prices pretty low – always a plus.

my lunchtime view of the bay

Most of the lunch venues at the Market have a gorgeous panoramic view of the bay. It was the perfect sight to stare into while I enjoyed my grilled halibut sandwich.

I miss Seattle

The trip back to the east coast was ambivalent. Although I wanted to stay in Seattle forever, and visit Pike Place Market everyday, it was time to go back. I stayed staring out the airplane window for most of the flight back, thinking about what I can blog about once I get home. This pesto, for sure, was at the top of my list.

mise en place

I’ve always been a fan of the arugula-lemon combination. It’s one of those things in cooking that just works – like figs and blue cheese or chocolate and mint. Pesto, however, starts to get dark shortly after it comes together. This can be a problem if you’re dinner party starts in a couple hours or if you’re banking on some leftover sauce to give as gift or enjoy the next day. My good friend Michelle, who is quite the amazing cook, shared with me the secret to keep the vibrant green color in pesto, even days after it is made.

herein lies the secret – blanch your greens

The secret to keeping the gorgeous green color on the leaves is by blanching them in boiling water for 10-15 seconds. This process actually enhances the color of the chlorophyll, but since it is done quickly, it does not break down the greens either.

shock in ice bath

In order to preserve the bright green color the leaves turn, you need to immediately stop the cooking process after 10-15 seconds by plunging the greens into a bowl of ice-cold water. Make sure you drain and dry the greens before adding them to the pesto so as to not water down the sauce.

lemon zest for zing

Lemon zest, similar to salt, heightens the flavors of a dish without adding too much acidity.

extra virgin olive oil to combine

Once you have all the ingredients ready, you’ll want to bring them all together in the food processor with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.

some acidity to make the flavors pop

Adding lemon juice is a matter of personal preference. I do it because I like how that little touch of acidity cuts the fat from the oil and cheese in the pesto. You can play around with different amounts and textures, but in the end you want the lemon flavor to be a subtle note in the background and not overpower the sauce.

Lemon infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

Lemon Infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

yields approx 1.5 cups


  • 4 oz basil leaves, (approx 3 cups, lightly packed)
  • 2 oz arugula leaves, (approx 1 cup, lightly packed)
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Boil water in a large pot and prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl.
  2. Salt the boiling water. Add the basil and arugula leaves for 10-15 seconds and immediately plunge in ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the bright green color in the leaves.
  3. Strain the leaves and pat dry using a clean towel. Combine all the ingredients in the food processor (or blender) and blend until well combined.
  4. Taste for seasoning. Enjoy with pasta or refrigerate with a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface to preserve the green color for up to a week.


a peak of what’s coming up next!