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Archive for the ‘lemon zest’ Tag

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!

A world outside of mozzarella & pepperoni

A simple google search for kid-friendly recipes is scary. What shows up, in fact, is a harrowing slew of butter-saturated, sugar-filled recipes written with a complete disregard for health. I discovered this last week because I was looking for just that – simple recipes that I can make with kids.

My friend Beth invited me to cook in front of a class of kindergarten students. Her son is in the class and they were looking for someone to do a cooking demo for the kids’ end of the year party – I was flattered that they thought of me and happily accepted.

I took this as my tiny opportunity to make a difference in the way these kids looked at food. While this was not the time to introduce them to the delicate flavors of perfectly-seared scallops or steak tartare, I wanted to cook with them something they’re familiar with, but probably never had before. I decided to let them make their own pizzas. Instead of just mozzarella and pepperoni though, I brought with me a ton of different vegetables and all sorts of sauces for them to experiment with. Well-aware of the fact that the kids will have a short attention span that rivals mine, I also brought with me my pizza paddle and pizza stone so they could take turns sliding their pizzas into the oven.

flying food is always fun for kids

One of my favorite pizza combinations we made with the kids was a lemon-infused, goat ricotta, white pizza topped with thinly sliced zucchini. The flavors are light, refreshing, and clean — perfect for the hot summer days ahead.

mise en place

Count them – four ingredients; five if you include the extra virgin olive oil. This means no skimping on ingredients! I tried this same pizza with regular ricotta and it doesn’t work. The wow factor just wasn’t there. If you absolutely cannot find goat-milk ricotta, however, not to worry. Mix a semi-firm chevre (like Spanish Capricho de Cabra) with some good quality, fresh ricotta and you’ll get a similar result. Like I said, it won’t be spot-on, but it will get you pretty close.

lemon zest makes me happy

The lemon zest in the ricotta serves two purposes. Not only does it heighten the flavors of the goat cheese, but it also gives the pizza a clean, crisp flavor. I recommend using organic citrus whenever a dish calls for using the zest or rind.

almost paper thin, almost

Zucchini has lots of moisture and moisture is the kryptonite, so to speak, of pizza. To remove some of this excess moisture you’ll want to thinly slice the zucchini (preferably with a mandoline) and fan the slices out on a plate so they’re not on top of each other. Then season the slices with salt and pepper and the salt will start to break down the cell walls of the zucchini, and thus allowing it to give up some of that moisture. Soak it up with a paper towel and your ready to roll.

extra virgin olive oil

The kids were shocked when I hinted at the idea of a pizza without tomato sauce. Their facial expressions were absolutely priceless. And although not many chose to forgo the traditional red sauce, I feel like those that did may have a bright culinary future ahead of them!

Lemon-Infused Goat Ricotta White Pizza With Sliced Zucchini

Lemon, Goat Ricotta & Zucchini Pizza

makes 1 large pizza


  • 24 oz. pizza dough
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lb goat milk ricotta
  • zest of 1-2 lemons
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Zest the lemon(s) and stir the zest into the goat ricotta
  2. Thinly slice the zucchini (preferably with a mandoline), fan out on a plate, season with salt and pepper, and cover with a paper towel to soak up some of the moisture.
  3. Stretch pizza dough to approx 1/8″ thickness – this pizza is better thin than thick – and brush a thin coat of olive oil over the top.
  4. Spread the goat cheese mixture over the top and top with the thin slices of zucchini.
  5. Preferably bake on a hot (550 degrees F) pizza stone for 5-7 minutes or until the crust gets golden brown.


This is why everyone should invest in a pizza stone:

perfectly crispy crust

just peachy

Right now I should be in Seattle spending quality time (i.e. karaoke-ing)  with my friend Jess.  Just like this past weekend I should’ve been in sunny southern California at Diane & Todd’s blogger bash… but, no. Instead, I was informed (on my way to the airport on Friday) that my airplane would be delayed to the point that I would miss my connection. Mind you, this was the last connecting flight to southern California that evening. So, does the airline offer to put me up at a hotel for the night?  Does the airline even care to compensate me in any way? No and no. I just barely got my money back from the extremely rude supervisor and had to turn around and go home.

I make it a habit not to let things to get under my skin and so I tried to have a good weekend despite all the mishaps. As is the case with most foodies, our best weekends always tend to start with a visit to the local farmer’s market. I did just that.

Eastern Market in DC:

spring colors
spring colors

The flowers speak for themselves. Everywhere I turned there were different patterns and colors… it always baffles me how these things just grow on the ground (is this just me?).

we had our food, the bees had theirs
fruits and bee

Even though I’m usually freaked out by bees (and most other flying creatures for that matter), this one looked so calm eating and minding its own bee-sniz. I opted for the other food at the market and snacked on a the wide array of fruits and heirloom tomatoes on display that day (definitely one of my favorite things about farmer’s markets). 

my inspiration
my inspiration

How could anyone resist? Seriously, these peaches tasted as ripe and juicy as they look. I took some home and on the metro ride thought of the possibilities. I narrowed it down to peach cobbler or peach galette and since a galette is more Mediterranean, I went with that. 

mise en place
mise en place

Galettes (or crostatas as they’re known in Italy) are rustic looking tarts. This means no fuss with tart pans or delicately crimping edges. That’s exactly what I did not need this past weekend.  No; galettes are super easy and you can pretty much fill them with whatever fruit you would normally bake with.

every good dessert has butter
every good dessert has butter

OK, so even though the crust already has a ton of butter to begin with, I just couldn’t resist adding a tiny sliver on top… Since we’re topping these with a sprinkling of sugar, we need something for the sugar to stick to, right?  Sound logic, especially when you’ve been having such a crummy weekend.  

peach galette
every good dessert has butter

If I wasn’t going to be able to see my good friends on the West coast, I was going to need a few of these tarts (3 to be exact) to cheer me up. In my defense (ahem, Adam), I did go to the gym shortly afterwards. If you haven’t already tuned into Adam’s blog, umm… you should. He’s a foodie/health guru who allows the occasional indulgence (if executed properly, of course).

Peach Galettes

yields approx. 4-5 individual galettes


  • 225 g flour
  • 115 g butter, unsalted (1 stick)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp amaretto, chilled
  • 2 tbsp water, chilled
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • half a peach per galette
  • slivers of butter & sugar for topping

Putting them all together

  1. Pulse cold butter and flour in the food processor until you reach a mealy texture.
  2. add the lemon zest, salt and sugar.  Slowly add one tablespoon of liquid at a time until the dough just barely begins to come together.
  3. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  4. Once dough has chilled, divide it and roll out each piece to 1/4 inch thickness.
  5. Slice peach halves and fan on top of dough. Fold edges inward to contain the peaches.
  6. Top with a sliver of butter and a healthy sprinkling of sugar.
  7. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. 


can I plant these?
peach pits

I just started gardening last month and so I’m relatively new to all this… does anyone know if I can grow a peach tree from these pits?

Grandmas are the BEST!

A few days ago, my cousin sent me photos from back in the day that I didn’t even know existed. They were of my family’s summer getaways in Venezuela, where we used to live before moving to the good ol’ US of A. I spent hours looking through the photos – conjuring up memories I had stored away a long time ago. Granted, a lot of them were of me in speedos in Venezuela’s many beaches; so I’ll skip through those and share with you this one:

grandma, little brother and me (eating, of course)

A lot of my Middle Eastern recipes are inspired by my grandmother who is as much a foodie as I am, if not more. She is still a private Middle Eastern caterer in Venezuela and on her visits to our house in Miami, she feeds everyone: family, friends, neighbors… repairmen.  My friend Zarina, who met my grandmother for the first time this past summer, describes her as “a food machine.”  That summer, Zarina would often hear my grandmother waking up at 5am to start making breakfast and the rest of the meals for the day.  A food machine, I tell you, and I’m proud to call her my sito (Arabic for grandmother — pronounced sit-toe).

mise en place
mise en place

The funny part is that the day I received the photographs from my cousin, I was actually on a mission to figure out what to do with the all the leftover fruits from my fruit tarts. This is when I stumbled upon Fanny’s post of her grandmother’s cherry clafouti.  Fanny has a sweet French food blog called foodbeam where she shares with the world her culinary treasures in her own retro fashion.  Anyway, the moment I read the way Fanny idolizes her grandmother and describes the recipe for this custard-like pancake with a funny name, I knew I had to make it.

a match made in heaven
cardamom and blueberry

I didn’t want to change the recipe too much, because grandma’s do know best.  I did, however, want to modify the flavors to pair well with the TONS of blueberries I was planning on using.  For this, I relied on cardamom.  The soothing lemony flavor that cardamom brings to the dish works great alongside the fresh flavors of the gushing blueberries.

a stream of melted butter
melted butter

As this recipe is French, you’ll just have to live with the 80g of butter that go into this dish. Trust me though, after the first bite you’ll forget all about it.  It’s that good!

fresh summer blueberries
fresh summer blueberries

Plus, I’m an optimist, so I focus on the abundance of fresh fruits and antioxidants I’m supplying my body with every bite.  500g of fresh blueberries – 80g butter + 1 tsp cardmom – 120g sugar… I don’t know how the math works out exactly, but like I said, you’ll be too happy to even care.

blueberry-studded batter
blueberry-studded batter

Another thing I fell in love with about this dish is the way the batter envelopes the blueberries while they bake in the oven. And one thing I forgot to take into account is that blueberries are less dense than cherries; so you need a lot more blueberries than cherries to come up with the 500g for the recipe.

blueberry cardamom clafoutis
blueberry cardamom clafoutis

As I expected, I loved the clafouti! And I still can’t get over how cool the name is; klah-foo-tee! Aaanyway, I still have more blackberries, raspberries, kiwis and strawberries leftover, so look out for another fruit post soon!

Blueberry Cardamom Clafouti

yields approx. six 4″ ramekins

adapted from Fanny Zanotti


  • 200g flour (≈1 3/4 cups)
  • 120g sugar (≈1/2 cup + 2 tbsp)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 80g butter, melted (≈ 3/4 stick or 6 tbsp)
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 400g blueberries

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and butter your ramekins.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt.
  3. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth and then incorporate the melted butter.
  4. Gradually mix in the milk so that no lumps form.
  5. Add the blueberries and divide the batter into your buttered ramekins.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden and a skewer comes out clean. 


clafoutis butter