This Week on Instagram

Roma! My first international trip of the year was spent in Rome, Italy, home of pizza, pasta, gelato and the most fabulous wines. Oh, right, and ancient ruins, of course.

I only spent a few days in Rome, but I walked and ate my way around the city. See, the Italians, they know how to live! Everyone is skinny, and beautiful and all about being in fashion. They also enjoy time at the dinner table, where nothing is rushed. So let’s get started with this week’s wrap up. Disclaimer, it’s my full-time job that actually sent me to Rome for a conference. Those days were long and busy, but I evened it out with a little bit of my own free time, and obviously food.


Upon arrival in Rome, I took the train from Rome Fiumicino Airport to the Termini Station, which was only a couple blocks from my hotel. Despite the fact that I try really hard to travel light, I ended up with a rolling carryon bag and a medium suitcase. I just can’t help it!


I didn’t waste any time that first day. After checking in and freshening up (I’m pretty sure I took a minimum of 3 showers a day), I headed straight to Trevi Fountain, where I dug out a quarter and did what everyone does – made a wish. They say, if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain with your right hand over your left shoulder, with your back to the fountain, that it will ensure your return to Rome.


Not far from Trevi, are the Spanish Steps. While they hold much historic significance, I admit I was more captivated by Piazza Spagna where the designer shops line each of the streets leading to the steps. The view from the top of the steps though, is breathtaking.


I’m pretty sure I walked most of the inner part of Rome by dark. With pending dinner plans, I didn’t want to spoil my appetite too much. Just a little, three-scoop, gelato from Come il Latte. Not only is their gelato absolutely delicious, the interior of the gelato shop was super cute. They have milk bottles up on shelves lining the interior walls. My three scoops of choice: hazelnut, raspberry and pistachio.


After walking up and down what seemed like endless hills, I finally had dinner at San Marco with a few of my coworkers. We started off with house wine all around, and decided we were all ordering pizzas. But before digging in, we also got bruschetta.

You may not know this, but classic bruschetta is actually just garlic roasted bread with olive oil. We learned that lesson real quick. Namely when we all waited around for tomatoes to arrive, only to be told we ordered “classico,” DUH!


I opted for a white pizza. Pizza here in the U.S. has nothing on Italy’s Pizzas.


To end the night, we were treated to lemoncello shots, to be sipped and enjoyed as dessert, as opposed to chugged. Lemoncello  was everywhere in Rome. And while I so badly wanted to enjoy it, the alcohol content was just too strong for my weak little taste buds.


The best part of the hotel, the breakfast view. And breakfast of course. I started each of my days off staring at Rome’s skyline with my cappuccino, eggs, some cheese and focaccia bread.


A trip to Rome is not complete without a trip to the Colosseum. It’s absolutely astounding to think about how they build these massive structures in ancient times without the help of our modern technologies.


Rome’s charming streets and narrow alleys were always filled with pedestrians, cars and mopeds. The mopeds are so popular, you could easily find them parked lining an entire street. I seriously considered renting one. But considering Roman drivers, I decided to pass.


Aside from the Colosseum, I also made my way to the Roman Theater (not photographed) and the Pantheon. I’m telling you, Roman history is fascinating.


What’s even more fascinating? The shops along each of the small roads around Rome filled with goodies waiting to be bought.


I found this delectable place filled with breads and cheeses and wines and meats. I settled for a caprese sandwich on focaccia bread, and sat across the street on the steps facing the Pantheon.


Because I don’t already have a problem with shopping, I find these shops filled with pasta, olive oil, spices and, naturally, lemoncello.


Did you know that most Italian coffee shops offer you coffee at a bar? That it’s widely accepted to drink your coffee standing while talking to the barista? Now you know. Here I am sipping a cappuccino while some businessmen are doing the same and chatting just a few feet away.


I’m wrapping up two of my dinners into one. Basically I ate tons and tons of pasta in Rome. Mind you, I generally don’t order pasta dishes here at home. When in Rome!


Can we talk about how my cheese and pepper pasta was served in a parmesan bowl?!


Incase you were wondering, yes, Barilla is the pasta of choice in Italy. How do I know this? I just had to visit the local grocery store.


One of my nights in Rome, I was treated to a visit to a local, chic bar, Salotto 42 . The vibe was very chill, everyone was dressed to the T, and the wine was off the hook! (Do people still say that?). They even offer free appetizers. There’s something in Italy called Aperitivo. It’s kind of like happy hour, but better.


I just had to share this photo of a tiny car with Roman cobble stone roads. Yes, someone owns and drives that car, and they fit four people inside. I saw it with my own two eyes.


Rome was a blast. I loved every moment, even the really hectic and busy moments doing real work for my day job. I did not leave Italy empty handed. I left with tons of pasta, spices and olive oil, because I’m a food blogger of course.


Until next week …. follow along on Instagram


Turkish Coffee Cake

Turkish Coffee Cake

I remember the first time I ever tried Turkish coffee. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember being in the living room of our old townhouse. Both my parents were drinking Turkish coffee on a sunny afternoon and I wanted to get in on the action. After much begging, my mom let me have a sip. I’m pretty sure she regretted it instantly because it was so awful to my immature taste buds that I spit it out all over her and the couch. Many, many years later, I gave Turkish coffee another chance.  My tastes must have matured because now I enjoy medium Turkish coffee with a side of something sweet.

My favorite afternoons are Saturday and Sunday afternoons sipping sweet Turkish coffee while watching the latest Turkish soap operas with my Tayta. As she gets older, I realize that time is fleeting and I have to savor these moments with her. It’s a weekly tradition to stop by and spend some time with her. I’m so lucky that I live close enough to make it a weekly visit.

Turkish Coffee Cake


The beauty of Turkish coffee is in its bitter flavor, the way it’s boiled, and its ability to tell you about your future.

Tayta taught me a no-fail recipe for Turkish coffee which includes spoonfuls of sugar and ground coffee in silverware-sized tablespoons, boiling the coffee, stirring, then boiling again to create a thick film on top. She warned me never to walk away from a pot of Turkish coffee on the stove because it will boil over the second you take your eyes off it– side note, it’s also a nightmare to wipe up off the stovetop. When serving, each coffee cup gets a little bit of film. Once done with your cup, it’s customary to swirl around the remaining coffee grounds, cover with the saucer then flip upside down.

This is where the fortune-telling comes in. It’s my favorite part. While there really are fortune tellers who are gifted with being able to read the coffee grounds plastered to the inside of your cup, I think for the most part my Tayta used to humor me by reading mine. There was always a long road, a bird with news from someone far away, a long stretch of white space (that’s a good thing) and a “celebration” (read as: wedding) in the near future. It didn’t matter to me whether or not she really could see the future in my cup, the important thing was that I got to spend that time with her, listening, laughing, and asking about her life.

That’s the beauty of Turkish coffee.

Turkish Coffee Cake


Turkish Coffee Cake

Turkish Coffee Cake

Yield: 6-8 servings


  • 1 stick Unsalted Butter, cut into pieces
  • Additional Butter to grease pan
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1 cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate (or chocolate chips)
  • 2 Tablespoons Turkish coffee powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9” cast iron skillet, or baking pan.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together sugar and butter until creamed
  4. Add in eggs one at a time
  5. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl 30 seconds at a time (for a total of 1 minute), stir until smooth
  6. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, Turkish coffee, cardamom, flour, and salt
  7. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients
  8. Continue beating until combined
  9. Add the melted chocolate
  10. Beat until combined
  11. Pour into a greased cast iron skillet or baking pan
  12. The batter will be sticky and may not pour evenly, use a rubber spatula to smooth out into an even layer
  13. Bake for 25-30 minutes
  14. Flip upside down onto a serving plate and top with powdered sugar
  15. Serve warm


Pro Tip: For day-old cake, heat in the microwave for 15 seconds and serve warm.

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This Week on Instagram

Valentine’s Day/Tayta’s birthday celebrations, and lots of eating out. This week, we were blessed with upwards of 65 degree weather in February. I’m not complaining. I savored every moment and took advantage of outdoor eating.


Have you ever wondered what happens after I come up with a recipe and take blog photos? I make my family eat it. When I want to make sure they don’t miss out, I even leave them a handwritten note.


Twice in less than a week. This time, for dinner, with a couple friends. The best people really are people who love to eat. We went all out, and even ordered their cardamom cake. Trust me, leave room for dessert.


Valentine’s Day for me isn’t about romance. It’s about Tayta’s birthday. She’s the glue that holds our entire family together. What better way to celebrate her, then on Valentine’s Day! Flowers and carrot cake (my favorite by the way) courtesy of Wegmans.


If it hasn’t already been made obvious, I love cheese. It’s no surprise then when my lunch choices are completed dictated by cheese. Nando’s has this delicious Mediterranean salad with, you guessed it, Halloumi cheese. It’s grilled to perfection. I usually add avocado, because good fat. Right? 


A new tradition has emerged, it’s called movie night. And it usually entails way too much food (courtesy of a lovely lady who can’t admit that she goes a little overboard, but I love her all the same), and an old Arabic movie. This last week, we all gathered around to watch Al Eyal Kebret (مسرحية العيال كبرت). I’ve watched this play many years ago, but I guess with age comes understanding, and boy did I miss a lot when I watched it at a young age!


The weather this weekend was amazing. It was upwards of 65 degrees, and you could tell because all the restaurants had their outdoor seating set up and everyone was out on the town soaking up the sun. The first outdoor lunch I had this weekend was Virtue Feed and Grain. The crab dip and salmon burger were delicious.


The second outdoor lunch – or I guess we could call it dinner – was at Yard House after a long day of shopping and running errands. I went for the Nashville hot chicken. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great fried chicken, it just wasn’t hot. At all. That was a little disappointing.


Until next week …. follow along on Instagram

How to Build the Ultimate Charcuterie

Ultimate Charcuterie

As you all know, I’ve been recipe testing and planning my dinner party menu for over a month. Partially because I’m an over-planner and partially because I was really looking forward to wowing my friends with my culinary abilities. I’ll admit, I kind of wowed myself with my main dish – Seafood Paella.  Dinner party planning takes a lot of thought, and I learned so many things from my mom and all her dinner parties. She sets timers on her phone the day of to keep her on a timeline for food prep. That’s dedication. I’m not quite at the mom-level of dinner party planning and execution, but I’m sure in time I’ll get there. I did inherit some of her organization skills.

Here’s what my dinner party timeline looked like:

  • 1 month-1 week before: Plan and set menu
  • 1-2 days before: Grocery shopping
  • Night before: Prepare any make-ahead desserts or marinades
  • Morning of: Set the table, get out serving dishes, serveware and centerpieces
  • Afternoon of: Cook! Clean up, repeat as needed until you’ve made everything. Save warm dishes for setting out once guests arrive.  
  • Right before guests arrive: Set out the cold items, Turn on the lights, Burn bokhoor بخور (incense)
  • Enjoy the dinner!

The two things I was most looking forward to was making seafood paella, and setting out a GORGEOUS charcuterie board. I have been drooling over charcuterie boards on Pinterest and Instagram for months. I’m not even kidding. There are so many ways to go about it. You can stick with just cheeses, or make it a meats board, you can tailor it by season (summer, winter, etc.), make it big, make it small, keep it simple, go all-out … it’s totally up to you.  

I decided I wanted an over-the-top display with a mix of meats, cheeses, breads, spreads, veggies and nuts. Other than those broad categories, I did not have a game plan. So when I went on my shopping trip Friday night, I ended up spending two hours at Wegmans. I love Wegmans, by the way, I bought all my dinner party ingredients from there.  Generally speaking, my grocery shopping trips are a get in-get what I need-get out kind of deal. While I had my grocery list in hand (on my iphone), I still managed to spend 75% of my time in the cheese and meat sections of the store. They have an impressive meat and cheese selection.

Ultimate Charcuterie

How to Build the Ultimate Charcuterie

The ultimate charcuterie includes a selection of cheese, meat, spreads/dips, nuts, dried fruit, veggies, bread/crackers, and some (optional) extras. 



If you’re going to have cheese here are a couple pro tips:

– Mix up the texture. You want to offer a mix of soft  (semi soft), (firm) and hard cheese

– Add color. While white cheeses are more prevalent, don’t be afraid to add in some yellow cheese, like cheddar cubes

– Go for different sources. Cow cheese is great, but offer up sheep cheese and goat cheese too.

Cheeses I used: Manchego, Cheddar Cheese cubes, Blue Cheese, Brie, Bucheron.


So here’s the deal with my meat selection, I was constrained by non-pork options. Really, that didn’t stop me from offering up a fun assortment. Same idea with the meats as the cheese, you want to offer a variety of tastes and textures. I featured roasted turkey slices, bresaola, beef salami and turkey pepperoni. I added in the turkey slices for color, and because everything else was beef-based. You’ll want to mix up smoky, spicy and simple flavors.

Spreads and Dips

I only had two dips on my charcuterie. I featured a sweet fig jam and plain hummus. With dips, you don’t want to go too crazy. Stick with 1-2 (3 max) and vary up sweet and savory. Great additions include tapenade, pate, apricot preserves or honey.

Nuts and Dried Fruits

For added crunch, go with smoked almonds and raw cashews. The world is your oyster with nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachio), just be sure to check for nut allergies ahead of time! Fruit should be a mix of fresh and dried. Add cranberries, dried apricots, dates, and mix in some fresh fruit like grapes, apples or figs.


I think vegetables really round out the charcuterie. For presentation (see presentation section below), veggies give you some color. Celery, carrots and tomatoes make for a no-fuss addition. 

Bread and Crackers

Keep the bread simple. You want to offer useful options. Sliced baguette, fresh or toasted, is always a win because its conducive to easy spreading. I added breadsticks and crackers for a crunchy option with soft cheese and spreads.


For a Mediterranean vibe, I set out small pickles as well as green and black olives fresh from Wegmans’ olive bar. Get the almond-stuffed green olives, they’re generally a hit. Don’t be afraid to get varying pickles. Pickled turnips, onions, and peppers bring texture and flavor to your charcuterie.


Presentation is everything. Let me repeat: Presentation is everything. They say, you eat with your eyes before your stomach. It’s the truth.

You want to offer up a visually appealing board. For me, that means mixing colors and textures, as well as filling in every inch of the board. If you have a small board, add some fun trays to hold the bread and crackers. Use small jars, or unusual looking containers for spreads. Spread out meats and cheeses, but don’t be afraid to place items extremely close to other things on the board.

Now, go forth and build your ultimate charcuterie.   

This Week on Instagram

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola made it onto the blog this week. I also shared photos from my dinner party featuring a massive pan of seafood paella. I’m just so proud! Topped off this last week with milkshakes and burgers, and some light baking.



Starting off the week on a slow note, I indulged in a delicious smoked salmon salad followed by a cup of turtle coffee. What is turtle coffee? Coffee, Hazelnut and caramel all in one.



Remember how it snowed last week? Well, it took me about a week to get my car to the car wash. Does anyone else feel an immense sense of anxiety when pulling forward to the car wash, trying to get your tires to align with the track? Maybe it’s just me …



Posted! My Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola. I promise you won’t be disappointed.



Afghan Bistro is a little gem. After countless work lunches here, I saw the restaurant was featured both in the Washington Post and Washingtonian Magazine. It’s pretty much impossible to get a table without a reservation. Not because they’re arrogant, but because the restaurant space is so small, they can’t accommodate more people.



I always burn muhallabiyeh on the first go-around. Don’t ask me how, or why, but I do. So I know that I need to have enough milk and sugar for at least double the servings. Maybe it’s because I get bored of stirring and I get distracted on my phone. This week was no different. I was trying to get ahead for my dinner party, and I ended up spending double the time standing in front of the stove stirring warm milk, cornstarch and sugar. It was well-worth it though, because everyone loved the muhallabiyeh.



After months and months — okay, one month — of planning, I finally hosted my dinner party! The main attraction was seafood (fully vegetarian) paella. I essentially fused together two (maybe more) recipes to come up with this beauty. If you want the recipe, shoot me an email (contact@measuringcupsoptional) and I’ll send it over to you. Thankfully it was a hit, because I may or may not have accidentally burned my roasted eggplant side dish to a crisp and had to come up with Lebanese green beans on the fly. Thank god for additional freezers.


With the opening of the revamped Springfield Town Center (mall for short), a whole slew of new restaurants opened up, one of which is Zin Burger. I won’t say no to a burger place. Try the Salted Caramel Milk Shake. Pro tip: The sakes only come in large. If you’re going with a friend, ask them to split one milkshake in two.



I’m not sure why I didn’t come up with this before! Lots of Turkish coffee, lots of cardamom and lots of chocolate coming to the blog soon.


Until next week …. follow along on Instagram

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

I’ve been obsessed with granola lately. No really, I have. I’ve been taking it to work with fruit, chia, flax and honey. I’ve been adding it to yogurt. I’ve even added it to my favorite raisin bran cereal, and aside from that, I’ve been eating it in handfuls — straight from the bag. If you saw my mini fruit and granola bowl tutorial on Instagram last week, then you know I was already running low on granola. I’ve managed to finish off the entire bag, and in my typical procrastinating way, haven’t gotten out to the store to get any more. So what’s a granola-obsessed girl to do?! Make my own, duh!

Making granola at home is super easy.

I actually found this great infographic by BodyMindSou that breaks down all the different ways you can make your own granola. It’s amenable to all the dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and good-for-you additions you love. This batch of granola was completely dictated by the contents of my pantry… pecans, coconut, cranberries, and the inclination not to add 3 kinds of chocolate chips to the mix. We’re being healthy, am I right? Right.

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola


Speaking of healthy, please tell me I’m not the only person who doesn’t think about the amount of sugar in pre-packaged foods (yes, even granola), only to be completely shocked when I make it homemade and it’s half as sweet because I haven’t added 10 lbs of sugar. As a matter of fact, the same could be said for salt.

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

I’m not the only one in my family completely obsessed with granola. Both my parents are too. So much so, that I had to hide the granola in an undisclosed location until I got a chance to take photos. I will say, though, that they’re usually really good about knowing that food must be photographed before it can be consumed in our household. Thanks for your support mom and dad!

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola


Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

Yield: 2 cups Granola


  • 2 cups old fashioned oatmeal, or instant oatmeal
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • ½ cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ½ cup cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat oven to 300F
  2. In a microwave safe bowl, heat the honey and coconut oil 15 seconds at a time until melted. Stir to combine
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: oatmeal, pecans, cranberries, coconut, salt and cinnamon
  4. Pour in the honey and coconut oil.
  5. Using a large wooden spoon or spatula, stir all the ingredients until combined and coated
  6. Pour the granola onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread evenly
  7. Bake for 15 minutes
  8. Remove from the oven, stir
  9. Return to the oven and cook for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
  10. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the granola to cool before storing.
  11. Note: the granola will still be soft coming out of the oven. Once it cools, it will harden.
  12. Store in an airtight container
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