Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake

Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake

Photo credit: Chef Adriel Zahniser

All good things must be shared — especially when it comes to recipes.  Lucky for me, I have a great group of friends who are talented chefs, and we regularly exchange our best recipes.  Such was the case last week, when my good friend Chef Malin Parker told me about Chef Laurie Crueley’s delicious olive oil cake.

I was so excited to make it (and of course, put my own spin on it) that I haphazardly forgot a crucial ingredient: milk.  As the cakes were baking in the oven and I started to clean-up the kitchen, I realized I forgot to add the milk.  Slightly panicked, I began to think of possible outcomes — I knew that without milk, the cakes would be heavy and dense.  My mind raced to think of ways to alleviate the heaviness and slowly but surely, an improvised topping was created.

With Chefs Adriel Zahniser and Malin Parker

My first inclination was to create a warm almond milk mixture and pour it over the hot cakes (similar to what you see in tres leche cake recipes) but in keeping with the Mediterranean inspired olive oil cake, I decided to do a mixture of fresh orange juice, honey and nuts.  The result was simply fantastic.

I am posting an updated version of Chef Laurie’s recipe below.  It combines her cake recipe (yes, with the milk) and my nutty honey based topping.  I also like an addition of coarsely ground almonds to the cake.  The nuts add a rich, buttery taste to the batter and compliments the flavor of olive oil nicely.  For the cake, I recommend using the best olive oil you can find, as this will greatly enhance the outcome.

With Chefs Mary Beth Rodriguez and Laurie Crueley

Since this is the time of year many people enjoy warm drinks such as tea, hot cider, or coffee, this cake will compliment your mugs very nicely.  And while you’re enjoying your tea and cake, feel free to watch this video of Laurie and I in the kitchen.  Enjoy!

Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake
Inspired by Laurie Crueley, Updated by Chris Kohatsu

Yield: 1 cake (9 inch round)

For the cake:

2 large eggs (room temperature)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Zest of 1 orange (finely grated)
1/3 cup whole milk
3/4 cup good olive oil (extra virgin is fine)
1/3 cup marsala wine
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup almonds (coarsely ground)

For the topping:

1 cup each walnuts, almonds, pine nuts (chopped)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9 inch cake pan or 8 x 8 square and set aside.
  2. Mix the eggs and sugar until incorporated and foamy, then add the zest, milk, marsala, olive oil and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.  Slowly add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, while the mixer is running, until all the flour is added and a nice cake batter is formed.  Stir the chopped almonds into the batter.
  4. Transfer batter to prepared cake pan.  Tap pan to release any air bubbles.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes.  Cake is ready when a toothpick or knife comes out clean.  Set the cake aside to cool slightly, and prepare the topping.
  6. Combine the raisins and orange blossom water in a small bowl.  Add a few tablespoons of hot water (just enough to cover) to allow the raisins to plump.
  7. Heat a large saute pan.  Once hot, add all of the nuts and toast, about 1-2 minutes.
  8. Add the honey, orange juice, cinnamon and raisins to the nuts.  Lower the heat and stir until well combined, about 1 minute.
  9. Turn out the cake onto a large serving dish or baking sheet.  Pour the hot nut mixture over the cake and spread into an even layer.
  10. Slice and serve warm cake immediately.  Drizzle with more honey and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.
A Good Friday Fish Recipe: Tuna Noodle Casserole

A Good Friday Fish Recipe: Tuna Noodle Casserole

Ooey, gooey, tuna noodle casserole

Whenever I travel, I fall into certain habits — rituals, actually — that I must complete:  I check-in online and monitor my flight status.  I put all of my travel-sized toiletries in a clear, plastic bag.  I plan all of my outfits around two pairs of shoes.  I grab a stack of magazines so I have plenty of reading material.  And I always, always, empty my refrigerator but leave some type of dish for my return.

I love dishes that freeze well and re-heat to perfection.  Tuna Noodle Casserole is one of those recipes you can make well in advance then have plenty to enjoy whenever you feel like it.  Instead of baking the casserole in one large container, I opt for several smaller dishes, portioned for just one or two servings, and are freezer, oven and microwave safe.

Made with peppers, capers and hearts of palm

My love for tuna noodle casserole is two fold: it’s a comfort food as well as a budget saver.  I love the soft creaminess of the noodles with hearty chunks of tuna.  I also love how cheap it can be to make!

I must admit, my version of this classic recipe is anything but traditional.  I don’t use peas and I don’t top it with breadcrumbs.  I do, however, add freshly sliced bell peppers, tangy caper buds and slices of crunchy hearts of palm.  Also, instead of canned pack tuna, I prefer the type that comes in a pouch.  Rather than being packed in water, I buy tuna that is sealed in olive oil, as it yields a much better flavor.

Individual dishes make reheating easy!

I’ve been able to keep this casserole for 30 days in my freezer without a problem.  It re-heats beautifully in the oven,  and in a pinch, it will do well in the microwave.  Once you’ve made a casserole, it’s pretty easy to change up the ingredients based on what you have leftover in your fridge.  Simply swap the tuna for chicken or ham and use other types of vegetables and you’ve got a whole new dish!

If you enjoy Meditteranean style dishes, or are just looking for a little bit of zest for dinner, give this a try.  I have a small container of tuna noodle casserole waiting for me in my freezer — and I can’t wait to heat it up when I get back!

Tuna Noodle Casserole (alla Chris)

  • 1 pound wide egg noodles (cooked just before al dente in salted water)
  • 2 red bell peppers (ribs and seeds removed), thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 pouches tuna in olive oil, drained
  • 1 jar (3.5 ounces) non-pareille capers, drained
  • 1 cup hearts of palms, sliced into small circles
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Use a cooking spray to lightly grease your baking dishes.
  3. In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat butter over medium heat. Add bell peppers and stir. Cook until just tender about 4 to 6 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer.
  4. Turn off the heat and add tuna, hearts of palm, capers and noodles. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Divide mixture between prepared baking dishes sprinkling with Parmesan cheese. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 15 minutes.
  5. To freeze, allow each dish to cool completely.  Seal and place in freezer.
Entertaining 101: Make it Special (and Use Chocolate!)

Entertaining 101: Make it Special (and Use Chocolate!)

Putting the fun in fondue!

When my girlfriends Jen and Dana said they wanted a chocolate party at my house, my initial response was: “Okay, see you in an hour?”

Thankfully, they gave me more time to plan and organize a chocolate themed party.  In the week leading up to it, I found myself giddy with joy and anticipation.  It’s an exhilirating feeling when friends feel comfortable enough to invite themselves over (and over again!)  To me, it feels like I’ve done my job: that I’ve made guests truly feel welcome in my home.

When it comes to entertaining, I’ve found the best times are built around small, special gatherings.   Whether it’s a champagne brunch, an afternoon cookie exchange, or roasting weenies in your backyard around a fire — the only goal a host should have is to make the gathering a special time for all.

So what does “special” mean?  In my opinion, it’s the ability to weave your own sense of fun, creativity, talent and appreciation of your friends into a small block of time.  You don’t need the finest china, pressed linens or gourmet foods to do this.  What you need is good friends, a sincere invitation and a location.  Alcohol helps too!

I filled the table with small bowls of delicious foods.

For the chocolate party, I decided a small group of girlfriends for a luncheon would be ideal.  Since we were going to indulge in a rich dessert, balancing the meal with crisp salads was the way to go.  Before I knew it, I was putting together a Mediterranean themed menu, complete with falafel, lamb meatballs, cous-cous, stuffed dates and a lemon orzo dish.  Dessert would be the pièce de résistance: a chocolate fondue with all kinds of wonderful sweets to dip and enjoy.

There were three menu favorites yesterday: the goat cheese stuffed dates, the lamb meatballs and the chocolate fondue.  The dates were easy, simply mix goat cheese with heavy cream and stuff the dates.  Voila!  You have luxurious bite-sized hors d’oeurves in no time.  The lamb meatballs were flavorful and rich, so I’m including the recipe below.  And the chocolate — well the chocolate was fun because everyone had a “hand” in it.

Jen volunteered to make the dippers platter.  She put together a beautiful spread of fresh fruits, pretzels, graham crackers, marshmallows, rice treats and brownies.  Korey, Dana and Lesa were assigned to clear the table then assemble the fondue pot.  I stood over the stove and melted dark and milk chocolate with heavy cream and a pat of butter.  It all came together beautifully!

All smiles before dipping into chocolate.

Remember what I said about weaving in your own sense of fun and creativity?  I decided that with dessert, we needed to play a few rounds of “Just Dance 2” on the Wii.  It turned out to be hours of fun! We had a blast shaking our booties to Ke$ha, Avril Lavigne, Kris-Kross and even the song “Jai Ho.”  Before I knew it, the whole day passed, and we were breathless from dancing and laughing (and a lack of good cardio training).

To Jen, Dana, Korey and Lesa, thank you for sharing such a special day with me. And to everyone else, may your next gathering with friends be filled with fun, creativity and lots of laughter.  After all, that’s what makes everything in life so special.

Kofte (Lamb Meatballs)


  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Mix all the ingredients and allow meat to marinate in the refrigerator for two hours or overnight.  Using a small portion scoop or scant 2 tablespoons, portion the meat into small balls using your hands to roll.

    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

    Saute the meatballs in a skillet with olive oil, approximately 3 minutes per side.  Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and finish in the oven, about 15 minutes.  Serve as is, or with roasted red peppers, tomatoes and onions.  Cucumber yogurt (tzatziki) is also a nice addition.