Thursday, March 29, 2012


Today I climbed a tree on a whim! It's been years since I've actually been in a tree, and it's remarkably fun, acting like a kid again. Even better when said tree has a bunch of fresh oranges for the picking. :)

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. It's been raining and dreary almost non-stop for weeks here already, so I'm thankful for even the few minutes of sun and respite from the clouds that we get these days.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spicy tomato and egg pizza, with lemony broccoli rabe

Lots of desserts have been coming out of my kitchen in the past few days, but they're all for an upcoming project that I'm working on (you've seen a few if you follow me on Instagram). So for a bit of variety, I thought I'd change it up a bit with a savory recipe on the blog, one inspired by breakfast for dinner (or lunch): spicy tomato and egg pizza. --and with a broccoli rabe side, for a bit of well-rounded green.

The tomato sauce on this pizza has a punch of heat contributed by one of my favorite sources of spiciness: whole dried peperoncino chilies from Italy. I first encountered these peppers at a BBQ of a friend of a friend years ago. The hostess had made incredible mushroom risotto (yes, it was quite the gourmet BBQ, with risotto and fancy Portuguese sausage--and 8 layer bean dip) and then handed me a bowl of rough-crushed dark red peppers to sprinkle on top. "Be careful," she warned me, "those peppers have quite the kick." And indeed they did, but I loved them at first taste. They're smokier and more flavorful than the bland pre-crushed red pepper variety that I've seen here in the States, and when I gushed over them (more so than the risotto, which must have made me seem quite odd), the hostess kindly packed me a small ziploc bag of them to take home.

The problem was that neither she nor I knew their origins. The hostess's explanation with the peppers was that a friend had given a bag to her on a recent European trip, but she wasn't sure whether they were from Spain or Italy or Portugal. So I spent years after that BBQ hoarding my tiny little ziploc bag of dried peppers like they were nuggets of gold, not wanting to use them all up because I wouldn't ever be able to replace them (thankfully, they're spicy enough where a little goes a long way).

Then, on my recent Italy trip, as I was wandering around the supermarket--something I particularly like to do in foreign countries, yesIknowI'mweird--, it occurred to me that I should double check the spice aisle, just in case these peppers were of Italian origin. Lo and behold, EUREKA! GOLD MINE! Peperoncino PAY DIRT! (Later in Sorrento, we saw tons of these peppers hanging in gorgeous clumps from shop doorways, too.) These peppers turned out to be pretty much the only souvenirs I brought home with me in my suitcase from Italy since I was traveling light, but I made sure to bring back at least two bags for me, a bag for a friend, and my traveling companions also bought a bag. Yay, Italy. :D

Anyways, these peperoncino chilies are fantastic, and I've been all excited about using them in everything I can now that I have a good supply. They are so perfect for this pizza because they add flavor and spice to a fragrant but simple garlic and tomato paste sauce that seriously takes less than a few minutes to whip up. The eggs on top of the pizza flood the crevices between the cheese with an extra layer of creaminess when baked, which melts into the heat from the tomato sauce underneath. The sprinkle of pecorino romano adds just a bit of salty sharpness to the whole thing to make it pop some more. I made this two days in a row because it was so easy and good, having it for lunch and breakfast the next day and then making it again for my parents when they came over for dinner.

P.S. This is also my first time making pizza dough on my own at home (I usually shy away from yeast recipes), and I am thrilled to discover how easy it is! The pizza dough recipe here is from the Cheeseboard Collective Works, the cookbook of one of my favorite bakeries and pizzerias in Berkeley.

Read on for recipes.....

Friday, March 23, 2012

TGIF: Managing shadows

[click on photo for a larger image]

While looking through my shots for the lemon baba cake, I noticed that I had some good examples of images with and without a scrim, so I thought I'd demonstrate shadowing in photographs with a side-by-side comparison. Above are two photos of lemons: the difference between them is that the photo on the left was made with a bare window and the photo on the right was made with the window covered in very thin, white fabric. The effect of scrim versus no scrim is strikingly apparent. On the left, we have stark shadows, with a drastic range between the brightest and darkest parts of the image. On the right, the shadows are much, much softer, and the light is quite even throughout the whole photograph. While you'll notice that I do like my dark shadowing, I ended up going with the scrim (image on right) for the post about lemon baba cake because I wanted to achieve a sunnier, vacation-y look and feel to accompany my Amalfi Coast photographs (many of which were taken in full midday sun--yikes, but that's another story). ... just a quick example of how managing light (and shadows!) really makes the mood.

(...and you don't necessarily need a white bounce, either!)

Happy weekending, everyone! (How is it Friday already???)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Triple lemon baba cake and the Amalfi Coast

This is a color story.  ...which is basically how I experienced the Amalfi Coast. It's a land of blues and greens, providing the perfect backdrop for the citrus groves that dot its hillsides.

Baba cake is a yeasted cake that's typically soaked to the core in rum (aka: rum baba), but being the heart of limoncello production, the stores in Sorrento all soak their baba cakes in the bright yellow lemon liqueur instead. As an homage to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, I tried to pack as much lemon as I possibly could into my baba cake for a triple lemon baba: a dash of lemon zest in the cake batter, a piling of sweet candied lemons on top, and all of it drizzled with a limoncello and lemon syrupy glaze. I also swapped in semolina flour for regular flour in the recipe because I wanted to have a bit more texture and bite to the finished cake--since it's soaked in a good drenching of syrup, I was concerned with having an overly moist cake with soppy texture on my hands (in Sorrento, you see stores selling jars of baba cakes floating in limoncello, but for me, soggy cake is just a no). The result was a dense yet spongy cake, very yeasty, and very lemony. Despite all of the sugar syrup you pour on this baby baba, the tartness and sharpness of the lemons (don't use meyers) help to make it not too sweet at all. Serve with a dollop of (lemon-scented) whipped cream (makes lemon x 4!).

Places pictured (top to bottom): Sorrento, Capri, Positano

Read on for recipe....

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Shots from a recent Food & Wine job: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], + an outtake above.

Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Orange-Olive Oil and Chocolate Cake

Arriving in Naples, shuffling off the train from Rome to catch the local train to the Amalfi Coast was a highly anticlimactic moment for me. You climb off of this very cosmopolitan, decked-out Trenitalia direct from Rome in Naples, and what you get in front of you is possibly the ugliest train system that I have ever laid eyes on, waiting to whisk you off to the supposed beautiful vacation spots along the coast: it's graffiti-upon-graffiti-covered, dull grey, with scratched windows for ventilation, thick metal luggage racks and yellowing lights overhead, and hard plastic seats--and it rattled enough to make me deaf within a minute of stepping on. My friend described it as reminiscent of old Eastern European transit, and I thought that that was an overly generous comparison. In other words, the Circumvesuviana train (that runs from Naples to Sorrento) did not inspire any confidence in me that the Amalfi Coast was all the vacation wonderland that I had heard it to be. Had I been completely duped?

But then-- after an hour or so of rattling about on the train, worrying that my teeth were going to rattle out of their sockets --the citrus groves appeared. Dense and so laden with bright orange and yellow fruits, dotting the lush green landscape that suddenly surrounded and enveloped both sides of the train tracks, the branches of the trees seemed so close that I wanted to reach out and grab a lemon as we sped by. The state of the Circumvesuviana train in no way prepared me for the amazing citrus Eden that is Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, and all the lemon and orange trees that grow everywhere in the region were more than enough to make up for any doubts I thought I had. Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen so many oranges and lemons in one place ever, and it was like heaven for a citrus-fiend like me.

So it's sort of no surprise that I've had oranges (and lemons, but that's for another post) on my mind since getting back from Italy. Even on the plane back, I was already scheming to make an orange cake. It took a few tries in the kitchen of different combinations before I settled on this one: orange-olive oil cake with chocolate frosting and flaked salt.

[click on photo above for a larger image]

The cake, though it takes a bit of time to make, is actually a very simple affair: dense and orange-scented, in one extra-tall layer for all the drama of a tall cake and none of the fuss of stacking layers. The dark chocolate frosting is fudge-y and delightfully smooth--it's one of my favorite chocolate frosting recipes, originally from this cake--and the combination of orange and chocolate is so classic, for very good reason. Finally, I sprinkled on some flaky, pink finishing salt that a good friend of mine got for me in Portland, and the occasional crunch and hint of salt on top just makes the chocolate even fudgier and the cake even more orange-y. It's a simple and perfect "every day is special" slice.    ... you know, since we can't all be amongst the citrus groves in Sorrento all the time (sadly!).

Read on for recipe....

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spinach, Tomato, and Tortellini Soup -- and Rome.

When I'm traveling, not many desserts get made, since desserts usually require ingredients and tools beyond the scope of the rental flats that I've been living out of for the past few weeks. --Plus, given how much gelato I've been eating, I really don't feel the need to add more sugar and cream to my diet! On the other hand, though, I do get the opportunity to do a fair amount of normal cooking. Since the pace of life is so much more leisurely, I actually find myself not rushing to scrape a meal together (or worse yet, heating up something from the Trader Joe's freezer section while feeling sheepishly guilty that I'm taking the time to eat and not work, as I normally do while at home), and I have the time to spend in the kitchen, stirring together an easy but delicious and piping hot pot of soup from fresh market ingredients, like this spinach, tomato, and tortellini soup I made while in Rome.

[click on photo for a larger image]

The soup was perfectly tomato-y and brothy for the sunny but cold, wool-scarf-needed, wintery days when I was there, and I slurped it happily while sitting by a third-story window overlooking the winding, narrow Trastevere alleyways below and reading a good book (this and this were amongst my favorites that I read on this trip). Ah, the slow life.

Thank you so, so much to those of you who wrote in with wonderful suggestions for my Italy trip! I just got back a few nights ago, so I'm still in the post-trip whirlwind of sorting through photos and catching up with all of the life and work that I've missed for the past few months of traveling. Much more to come in the next few weeks on the blog, as well as getting back to regular dessert posts!

Read on for recipe....