orange-pistachio semolina cake

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land
orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

Hello lovely people,

I’m back in Seattle after seven glorious weeks in Europe. And by glorious I mean crazy chaotic and jam-packed with work! I think I might be constitutionally incapable of being realistic about my own limitations. If a project sounds fun/interesting/novel/challenging, I feel compelled to say yes. Sleep and sanity be damned.

I’m not complaining. I got to discover beautiful Bordeaux. And collaborate with talented artists. And people-watch in Paris. And eat amazing food from my favorite chefs. And see friends. And make new ones. And drink a little too much deliciously funky French champagne. 

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

But I landed in Seattle sort of flattened from all those weeks of living out of a suitcase and navigating the stress of travel abroad. (Not once, but twice, restaurants I had booked for my retreat guests lost our reservation. One for 12 people on a Saturday night during Paris fashion week!) 

So since I got home, I’ve tried to be extra kind to myself. I’ve been making space for ample amounts of sleep. (I actually just woke up from a long Friday afternoon nap, which is unheard of for me.) Plenty of water and nourishing food. Runs through the fall foliage. Lots of laughter and connection with friends and family. And just generally more pleasure. You know--all those things we know we should be doing but don’t.

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

I have a mountain of images from my trip to sift through and I can’t wait to share them with you! But as part of taking my foot off the gas for a moment, I decided to opt for something a little easier this week. This superb cake was left over from a cooking class I taught at Book Larder. It wasn’t really on my agenda to shoot it and put it up on the blog. But then I woke up the day after my class and realized I had a delicious, fully-baked cake in my possession and that it would be pretty easy-peasy to shoot and share it.

Now don’t go thinking I’d throw any old junk up here on the blog; this cake is ridiculously good. I hadn’t made it in a couple of years and had forgotten how truly fantastic it is. When I cut myself a slice in class, topped it with a mound of delicately floral orange blossom whipped cream and took a bite, I was momentarily transported.

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

In line with this week’s theme of keeping things easy, this cake comes together with very little fuss. No egg whites to whip up. No need to remember to bring your ingredients to room temperature. You don’t even need a mixer. So if you also want to be extra nice to yourself this weekend, this cake is for you!

I’ll be back soon to share new work from my Paris and Portugal trips with you. In the meantime, I’ll be spending my weekend cooking, listening to records, watching the rain come down, and hopefully fitting in a nap or two.

Orange-Pistachio Semolina Cake

  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed orange juice (zest the orange before juicing and reserve zest)
  • 3/4 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups fine semolina
  • 1 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter

To serve

  • 1 recipe Orange Blossom Whipped Cream (below)

  • ¼ cup roughly chopped pistachios


*Note: This cake is better the next day, so make it in advance if you have time. Leave it covered out of the refrigerator overnight. 

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar, water, cinnamon stick and a small pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has thickened slightly, 5-6 minutes minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the orange juice. Set aside to cool until the cake is done.

Butter an  8” x 8” square or 9” round cake pan. 

Combine the pistachios and sugar in a blender or food processor. Process into a fine powder. Sift the pistachio sugar, flour, baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt and semolina into a large bowl. (The pistachios won't fit through a fine-mesh sieve, so if you don't have a medium-mesh sieve, use a fork or whisk to aerate your ingredients and remove lumps.) Add 1 teaspoon of the reserved orange zest and whisk to combine. Use your fingers to break up any remaining lumps.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan then transfer to a medium bowl. Heat the milk in the same pan over medium-low heat until it feels warm to the touch. Add to the bowl with the butter and whisk to combine. Add the milk and butter to the semolina mixture and stir to combine, making sure there are no pockets of dry semolina at the bottom of the bowl. 

Pour the batter (it will be thick) into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 
When the cake is done, remove the cinnamon stick from the syrup. Pour the cooled syrup over the hot cake. Let the cake sit until the liquid has been fully absorbed and the cake has cooled to room temperature. Cut the cake into roughly 3-inch squares or diamonds. Top slices with Orange Blossom Whipped Cream and sprinkle with chopped pistachios before serving. 

Makes 8-10 servings.

Orange Blossom Whipped Cream 

  • 1 cup cold heavy cream

  • 2 teaspoons sugar (preferably superfine), or to taste

  • 1-2 tablespoon orange blossom water


Place the cream, sugar and 1 tablespoon of the orange blossom water into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until the sugar has mostly dissolved. (You can also whip the cream with a hand blender or by hand with a whisk.) Taste and add more orange blossom water and/or sugar if desired. Beat until soft peaks form and serve.

Makes about 2 cups.

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

simple suppers: kefta shakshuka

kefta shakshuka on


It’s 75° and sunny in Seattle today. I’m writing this from the dappled shade of my backyard. The forecast is calling for for more balmy weather and I’ve got summer on the brain.

We’re not quite officially there yet, I know. And in Seattle, things could take a turn towards the drizzly at any moment. So it’s never a great idea to get your hopes up regarding picnics and trips to the beach. But I’m throwing caution to the wind and spending the afternoon dreaming of all the summer fun I intend to have this year!

kefta shakshuka on
kefta shakshuka on

In order to ensure that my workaholic side doesn’t grab the reigns and derail the whole enterprise, I’ve decided to make public all the magical summer moments I’d like to make happen this year. There’s something powerful about declaring your intentions to the world; plans and projects I share with others always seem to come to fruition just a bit more easily. A little accountability in the fun department never hurt, either!

 So here it is, my Summer Fun 2016 Wishlist:

  • Throw a backyard barbecue to get to know all my new neighbors better.

  • Always have a chilled bottle or rosé on hand for an impromptu cocktail hour.

  • Go camping in the San Juans.

  • Head back to Wichita to visit my bestie, her new man and her sweet babes.

  • Eat watermelon.

  • Go garage saling.

  • Host the fried chicken supper I’ve been promising Beau since our first date. (Oops!)

  • Take a road trip to Vancouver, Canada (which appears to be a pretty happening town).

  • Make popsicles.

  • Plan a picnic.

  • Stand in the garden eating sun-warmed tomatoes off the vine.

  • Summon the courage to swim in frigid Lake Washington.

  • Grilling, grilling and more grilling! (Especially, ribeyes with hot sauce butter. The best.)

  • Throw a pop-up dinner with my awesome friend, Kyle Wisner.

  • Paint my nails a bright, summertime-only color.

  • Become a regular at my new farmers market.

  • Finally master the art of flaky, mile-high southern style biscuits. (I’m looking at you, Brian.)

  • Pick wild blackberries.

  • Remember to take a vacation from my phone from time to time.

  • Bake a pie.

  • Read a novel.

  • Cut roses from the garden.

  • Spend time laughing with friends.

There. That seems doable, don’t you think? I’ll be checking in with you periodically to let you know how I’m progressing. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you have planned for the summer. Drop me a line in the comments below if you feel like sharing!

To help you clear your calendar for a little more summer fun, I have a new Simple Supper for you this week: Moroccan Kefta Shakshuka.

kefta shakshuka on

Remember that photo shoot I did with my friend, Mehdi? Well he also showed me how to make this savory, spicy and delightfully easy dish. The whole thing comes together in about 30 minutes. And this gorgeous shakshuka makes a great breakfast, lunch, or dinner. (Plus, meatballs!)

I hope you like it. And I hope this Simple Supper leaves you some extra space for summertime awesomeness!




P.S. Speaking of fun, I’m working on two new culinary retreats for this fall! In September, I’m teaming up with my friend, Rachael Coyle (who also happens to be an über-talented pastry chef and owner of Coyle’s Bakeshop), to bring you a week of cooking, tasting and soaking up all the beauty that is Paris.

I’m also finalizing the details on a culinary retreat in Lisbon and Porto this October. If you’ve been following along here, you know how crazy I am about Portugal! And I’ve added some exciting new activities this year. 

As always, I’ll open registration to my mailing list before the general public. These retreats will sell out fast, so sign up here to make sure you get early access. Details coming your way early next week!

kefta shakshuka on

Kefta Shakshuka

  • 1 lb ground beef chuck
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro, divided
  • 4 ½ teaspoons Villa Jerada kefta rub, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus additional to taste
  • 1 small onion, grated on the large holes of box grater or finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large ripe tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Villa Jerada harissa
  • Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • Whole cilantro leaves, to serve
  • Crusty bread or pita, to serve (optional)

*Notes: I love, love, love Mehdi's Villa Jerada spices and olive oils. I can’t recommend them highly enough. You can find stockists at the bottom of this post.

- I always double grind the meat for my meatballs. I think it makes them extra tender and moist. I either ask the butcher to do it for me or just throw regular ground meat in my food processor for about 20 seconds to get a finer texture and more even distribution of fat. Of course, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t double-grind the meat (and Mehdi didn’t for this recipe) but think it makes a mighty fine meatball. 

- I think these kefta would be beautiful with lamb instead of beef or a mix of half-lamb, half-beef.

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First, make the kefta (meatballs): combine the beef, ¼ cup of the chopped cilantro, 2 ½ teaspoons of the kefta rub, 1 teaspoon salt and the onion in a medium bowl. Mix well to combine. (I think it’s easiest to mix with your hands.) Using your hands or a small scoop, shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and chill for at least 20 minutes. 

While the kefta are chilling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the tomato, tomato paste, remaining ¼ cup chopped cilantro, harissa, the remaining 2 teaspoons kefta rub, a generous pinch of salt and pepper and the water. Cook until the tomato has broken down and the mixture has thickened to a sauce-like consistency. Add the kefta. Cover and cook until the meatballs are almost cooked through, about 10 minutes. Use a spoon to make an egg-sized hole in the shakshuka. Crack one of the eggs into the hole. Repeat with the remaining 3 eggs. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the eggs reach desired doneness, about 10 minutes for medium-soft. Sprinkle the eggs with a little salt. Scatter the whole cilantro leaves over the shakshuka and serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe by Mehdi Boujrada

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m'hanncha (moroccan almond and orange blossom phyllo pastry)

moroccan almond and orange blossom pastry on

We’re all moved into our new home. The whirlwind of the holidays and closing on the house and packing is behind us. I continue to explore the neighborhood: I know which butcher and grocery store I like. The best route for walking to the park. Where the post office is. 

moroccan almond and orange blossom pastry on

I expected moving to a new neighborhood would bring a lot of change. The piece I hadn’t foreseen was how adrift I would feel without all the small rituals that anchored my days. My afternoons at the coffee shop where I was greeted with a smile and where I knew all the baristas' names. The public library just a stone’s throw from my house. The running trail I knew like the back of my hand. Chats with my neighbor out the kitchen window. 

And though we’re still in Seattle, we’re no longer just a ten minute drive away from most of our friends. Less able to meet up for a spontaneous cocktail or after-work walk.

moroccan almond and orange blossom pastry on
moroccan almond and orange blossom pastry on

The good news is I’m finding new rituals and making new friends. That’s where this cake comes in. 

It's made of layers of phyllo dough wrapped around an almond filling infused with orange water and honey. It’s flaky and nutty and just the right amount sweet. This is my kind of dessert. Once I had baked it though, I realized it was definitely too much for Beau and I to finish on our own. So I took it to my photography class. 

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There’s something about sharing food that makes people open up just a little bit more than they otherwise would. As we sat around the table before class eating sticky slices of cake, people talked about their work and their partners and their interests for the first time. We laughed and shared photography tips and commiserated over our darkroom blunders. 

I’m not going to chalk it all up to the m’hanncha. But I am going to say it helped. And I’m officially counting Thursday Night Photography Class among my new rituals. There will very likely be more cake.

moroccan almond and orange blossom pastry on

M'hanncha (Moroccan Almond and Orange Blossom Phyllo Pastry)

  • 4 oz. (8 tablespoons) butter, melted, plus additional for brushing phyllo
  • 4 oz. (1 c.) blanched slivered almonds
  • 4 oz. (2/3 c.) granulated sugar
  • 11 oz. (2 3/4 c.) almond meal
  • 2 oz. (1/2 c.) powdered sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons orange flower water, divided
  • 6-8 sheets phyllo dough
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • ¼ cup mild-flavored honey

*Notes: If you can’t find almond meal, make your own. Place whole, sliced or slivered blanched almonds in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until they form a fine meal. You will be able to get a finer meal in the blender. Adding a tablespoon or two of sugar will help keep the almonds from turning to almond butter. If you add the sugar while making almond meal, be sure to subtract it from the amount in the recipe.

- This pastry is also delicious with pistachios. When I make it with pistachios I reduce the amount of cinnamon and add a pinch of ground cardamom.

moroccan almond and orange blossom pastry on

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the melted butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the blanched almonds and cook until light golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

When cool, place the browned almonds in a food processor with the granulated sugar and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. 

Add the almond meal, powdered, sugar, the rest of the butter, the whole egg, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of the orange flower water to the food processor with the almond and sugar mixture. Process until the mixture is homogenous, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary.

Unroll the phyllo dough and place it on a large work surface. Cover the phyllo with plastic wrap and then a barely damp towel to keep it from drying out. Remove one sheet of the phyllo and place it on your work surface, with a long side closest to you. Brush the phyllo with melted butter. You want it lightly and evenly buttered (not dripping with butter).

Take a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll it into a log about ½ -inch in diameter. Place the roll of filling on the buttered phyllo, about 1/2 inch from the edge in front of you. Continue to form rolls of the almond paste and place them end to end, gently pressing them together, until you have a log of filling that extends across the long side of the phyllo sheet.

Gently roll the phyllo sheet around the log of filling. Brush the top and sides lightly with melted butter to keep the phyllo roll flexible. Coil the first roll around itself in the center of a parchment-lined sheet pan.

Continue rolling logs of filling in the buttered phyllo and placing them end to end to form a tight coil until you have used up all of the paste. Brush the top of the pastry with the egg yolk and water mixture. Bake until crisp and golden brown (about 30 minutes).

In a small saucepan heat the honey to loosen it slightly. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon orange flower water and stir to combine. Pour the honey mixture over the warm pastry.

Cool slightly and dust with powdered sugar. Slice into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8-10 servings.

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