Final Digital Assignment

As the semester comes to a close, I wanted to take some time to reflect on all of the practical skills and knowledge that I have gained in my social media class (the class I wrote this blog for.) I started this blog in January with no prior WordPress experience and I am really happy with what it has become. I look forward to posting here in the future (once finals are over!) and devoting more time to the development of this blog over the summer.

This short clip provides a quick introduction and overview of what I will discuss in this blog post.

Social Media Expertise

This visual aid displays the most important social media skills that I have acquired this semester. I have provided specific examples of each skill below the infographic.

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1. Social Sharing and Understanding

I allowed for maximum social sharing on this blog by 1.) enabling social sharing buttons on the homepage and every blog post and 2.) embedding my personal Twitter feed into the homepage. I utilized WordPress widgets to add both of these features to my blog.

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Social sharing buttons

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Personal Twitter feed

I allowed multiple different social sharing options because I recognize that certain people have special preferences when it comes to social media. While certain content is better suited for certain platforms, it is important to give everyone the option to share content on whatever platform they prefer.

That being said, I am very familiar with different social media platforms and I know how to determine how different types of content will generally preform on different platforms. Therefore, I know the best type of content to post on each platform.

2. Photography 

I used this blog as an opportunity to hone my photography skills. I often displayed my photos in a slideshow format. This feature helped me show my readers how to prepare a certain recipe in great detail, but without taking up too much blog space. For some examples of this, please see my posts on pesto and homemade pasta.

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3. Potentially Viral Content

I gained experience in creating content that had the potential to go viral online, such as memes and GIFs. For examples of this, please see my posts on Via Umbria and homemade pasta.

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4. Embed Interactive External Content

To further enhance my posts, I often embedded maps from GoogleMaps, videos from YouTube, and songs/playlists from SoundCloud.

If I was discussing a certain location in one of my blog posts, an embedded map from Google Maps would help my readers find the location easier. They could simply enter their current location and be routed to the location. The maps also provided great insight into the surrounding area. YouTube videos helped me further illustrate my point in a way that I could not do in solely words and pictures. SoundCloud clips helped me create a certain ambiance within my blog and brought my blog to the next level.

For an example of an embedded Google Map, YouTube video, and SoundCloud playlist please see my post on Illy in DuPont Circle.

5. Create Infographics

I relied on infographics to help me relay facts to my readers, but in a way that made the facts seem like a story. In addition to the infographic shown above, please check out my post on risotto to see how I incorporated an infographic to further enhance the discussion of the recipe.

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Infographic from my risotto post

6. Monitor Analytics

It is essential to monitor one’s analytics with any social media strategy. It shows where one’s strengths and weaknesses are. I utilized WordPress Analytics to analyze my blog’s data. I measured where in the world the majority of my web traffic came from, how many and what sites people were redirected to mine from, what week my blog received the most views, and what days my blog saw the greatest number of views.

For example, I found that my blog generally received the most views on Wednesdays (before we have comments due), which I expected to see based on my own commenting patterns.

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For more specific analytics from my blog, please see the bottom of my “Luxurious Weeknight Pasta” post.

Subject-Area Expertise

This blog demonstrates my ability to process information (mainly, recipes), execute the plan, and then explain it all in simple terms so that even someone who has never cooked before can understand my post and make the recipe on their own (that’s my goal, at least!) I believe I am very reflective in my posts. If there is something I regret doing or somewhere I know I messed up, I will always acknowledge it. I love Italian food and I have been cooking it since I was little. I love the flexibility and casualness of it all. It is very easy to customize most elements of Italian food to suit one’s preferences. I definitely tried to encourage my readers to do this in all of my posts. That is where the cooking gets fun! I love being creative with my cooking (and, in turn, my thinking) and tried to capture that in this blog.

I utilized my general knowledge of each social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.) and my knowledge of Italian food and culture to formulate a social media plan for Via Umbria, a local Italian marketplace and cafe.

Social Media Trends

In my social media class, my peers and I communicate about social media news and trends on Twitter by utilizing the hashtag #SMPASocial. And, a lot has happened in the world of social media since the beginning of the semester. But, then again, when does the tech/online world ever seem to move slowly?? I have really enjoyed reading my classmates’ tweets this semester and I thought I would share some of their insight with you.

This article that Kyle shared about how Apple executive, Tom Gruber “said computers should be able to help us remember every person we have met, every food we have eaten and how it made us feel.” This is especially creepy to consider after watching the Black Mirror episode for class. I didn’t know that tech companies were actively pursuing research into technologies that would allow us to recount every memory, but I’m not surprised. As Kyle mentions, this would literally change the lives of millions living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. But, that being said, this would be a huge advancement that could be hugely abused by others, as depicted in the Black Mirror episode. It is interesting to consider how the majority of technological advancements come with some threat to users’ privacy and/or security. I predict that they will first find a way to utilize this technology to benefit people with dementia and Alzheimer’s – those who would strongly benefit from this advancement, with little risk involved. I am certain there would be ethical debates for this, but I think the general consensus would be this kind of technology could change these peoples’ lives. From there, I think tech companies would try to bring this technology to average, healthy people. I believe this proposal would prompt longer and stronger ethical debates.

I remember Koralie mentioning FaceApp in class one day, so I was very interested to read this article. The app is essentially a face morphing/editing app, but has a “hot” feature that lightens skin and slims peoples’ noses, giving them a more white Anglo experience. This is problematic because it makes it seem as though people can only be considered “hot” with lighter skin and a slimmed nose, which is completely untrue. But, I can see how this error was made. Oftentimes, professional photographers will use light to brighten up the center of the face. This same professional technology technique can’t be replicated on a phone. While I don’t think the company intended to send a racist message with this app, this is something that offended (and rightfully offended) a lot of people.

We’ve seen similar examples of this in the past, especially on Snapchat. Think back to the Bob Marley face morph they had. Or, the flower crown face morph. I agree with Koralie, I think this app seems to do the same thing as the flower crown morph. But, FaceApp does seem to make the changes (skin lightening, nose slimming) more blatant than Snapchat.

It is really important for tech companies to be more aware about what types of messages their products or apps send to their consumer base. I am optimistic that companies have learned their lesson when it comes to face morphing and that it will improve with time, but I do not think FaceApp will be the last company or app to make this mistake, unfortunately.

Sophie shared this great tweet that encapsulated a lot of the recent drama between Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. During my time in #SMPASocial, we have seen Instagram copy the story feature from Snapchat and then Facebook soon followed suit. Instagram and Facebook Messenger have also copied Snapchat’s signature “filter” feature. This specific tweet recaps how Facebook recently took Snapchat’s “stickers” feature and adapted it to suit their platform.

I can understand why it is tempting for all of the platforms to borrow from one another. But, as a consumer of social media, I don’t like the fact that my three-most used platforms are starting to totally look the same. Platforms should be focused on borrowing from one another, not straight-up copying from one another.

If all of these apps look the same, there is no reason for me to use all three apps. While I still have profiles and routinely check on all three of my accounts out of habit, I can certainly see myself moving away from one or two platforms over the next year. This is a test to see which platform will survive. I believe Snapchat is the most likely of all three platforms to lose popularity. First, many of their signature features are being replicated by Facebook and Instagram. They need to find a way to distinguish themselves from the competition. Second, both Facebook and Instagram already have larger followings that Snapchat. People already have established profiles on Facebook and Instagram. These users will not delete their accounts on platforms they’ve had for years in favor of one that they are new to.

My Tweets

I also thought I would share some interesting things that I found online!

I came across this article on Uber using a secret code to track iPhone users, even after they deleted the Uber app. The article claims that they started this a way to deter people from downloading the app and then deleting and re-downloading it to get a new user discount. This is a valid concern, however, this is a total violation of user security. Even after Apple prohibited Uber from doing this, they continued to do so. This is completely unacceptable. Companies need consumer trust, first and foremost. Now, more than ever before, companies need to prioritize user security, not compromise it. I would like to say I think this is the last example of companies compromising user security, but I think not. The surprising thing about this news is that Uber faced very little backlash. It received minimal news coverage. In order to get companies like Uber to respect user privacy, we, as a society, have to put pressure on them to do so. 

I came across this article from the Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy and I knew I had to share it, no matter what it was about. However, I think I would have ended up shared this article based on the content alone. Facebook’s VP of News Feed, Adam Mosseri, discussed what Facebook was doing and plans to do to combat fake news, after seeing how fake news played out during the 2016 presidential election. While Facebook has stayed mum on the subject by saying that they can’t control what people post on their platform, they haven’t done much to educate their users on the topic of fake news. Until now. Facebook displayed a header on every user’s News Feed for about 4 or 5 days with the headline “Tips for spotting false news.” This was a great decision on their part. They are using education as a way to limit the spread of fake news, without taking responsibility for the spread of fake news. I do not think Facebook is responsible for the spread of fake news, but they did have some responsibility in not choosing to educate their users. I am very happy to see Facebook take this new approach to fake news, rather than just ignore it and pass it off as not their problem. I predict this will help limit the spread of fake news, but not eradicate it. But, then again, I think it’s great to see them doing their small part.

Scrolling through my timeline, I knew I needed to share this article because the news is just so good. Instagram recently announced efforts to launch a feature that will allow users to make reservations at restaurants and salons via a location’s Instagram page. This is an awesome idea and I don’t know why no one thought to implement this feature sooner! I love the idea. It feels very futuristic. But, also extremely convenient. This type of idea pairs very well with Instagram’s visual nature. If you see a restaurant that looks delicious, you can simply click on a box and make a reservation. It completely takes out the middleman. This is a great example of harmless social media innovation. I do not see how this could potentially compromise one’s security or privacy. It would only make one’s life easier. The only company that this could potentially hurt is OpenTable. However, I do not predict that enough people 1.) use Instagram or 2.) would use this feature enough to severely hurt OpenTable.  

Social Media Issues

Privacy

Online privacy is something that everyone wants, but few truly understand. The first layer of online privacy mainly comes from Terms and Conditions agreements. As Opsahl writes in “A Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Network Users,” social media users have a right 1.) to make informed decisions, 2.) to maintain control “over the use and disclosure of their data,” and 3.) to leave the platform. Particularly important, “It is not enough for a service to disable access to data while continuing to store or use it. It should be permanently eliminated from the service’s servers.” I think Uber could benefit from hearing that last part, again. Companies must assure users that 1.) their privacy is important and 2.) they have full and total control over their personal information.

Because this is an issue that is filled with legal jargon, I thought I would make an infographic to simplify what it is that a company must guarantee its users in order to protect user privacy.

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The main problem in understanding one’s privacy and privacy rights online is that no one takes the time to read the Terms and Conditions, especially young people, who are the most likely to post compromising material online. This is the main point of Amy Wang’s Washington Post article, “A lawyer rewrote Instagram’s terms of use in ‘plain English’ so kids would know their privacy rights.” I think it is very important that individuals educate themselves about their privacy rights, but also believe that companies have a responsibility to clearly and concisely convey user privacy rights on their platform. Perhaps, more platforms could move toward offering a terms of use summary, in addition to the traditional terms of use we normally see.

Activism

While “slacktivism” gets a lot of flack for being all-talk and no-action, new research shows that it does, in fact, work. Slacktivism is how a lot people refer to the activism on social media. People tweet or share a link to spread knowledge on a certain topic or concern. The main criticism of slacktivism is that users will share a link, but not actually donate. They will retweet a hashtag but not go to protests or rallies.

A story from Quartz, however, discusses how social media engagement “is key to turning a protest into a social movement and in prolonging its lifespan.”

I found this awesome infographic from Brown Political Review that encapsulates some of the most popular “hashtag movements” of the social media age and proposes an interesting question at the bottom.

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It is clear that social media movements attract large numbers of people. I think the numbers in this infographic suggest that slacktivism works better for domestic matters. I think slacktivism has been more fruitful in causes such as #BlackLivesMatter and #NoDAPL because it is simply easier for people to meet at one protest location and protest together. #BringBackOurGirls may not have been ad fruitful because it is much more difficult for people to get to Nigeria and, not to mention, stage a protest in Nigeria. I think slacktivism serves as a great way of bringing people together but it still has its limits. While slacktivism raises awareness, the success of any movement ultimately comes down to the sheer number of people physically present at a protest or rally.

Because online activism attracts such large numbers of people to participate in a discussion, companies should not shy away from partaking in online activism by tweeting out hashtags that correspond with their company’s values and vision for the future. 

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A Quick and Simple Antipasto

What Italian food blog would be complete without an appreciation post for antipasto? While I have posted about bruschetta and pesto, which can 1000% be incorporated into an antipasto plate, I realized I didn’t have any posts about my favorite part of any meal – antipasto!

Antipasto is the first course of every formal and traditional Italian meal. It’s basically just an appetizer that incorporates meats, cheeses, and veggies into one platter. Because it’s like an appetizer, you don’t have to order one when you go out to eat in Italy or at an Italian restaurant. However, I always love being able to snack on something while I’m waiting for the main course.

Antipasti (the plural of antipasto) are so easy to put together and customize. Most antipasti don’t even require any cooking- you just need to put everything together on a plate! It’s super easy to put together if you need to bring food to an event. Sometimes, I’ll even make a mini antipasto to eat for lunch/dinner if I don’t feel like putting something more substantial together.

So, I thought I would write a post about how I make my go-to antipasto! Feel free to have fun with it- use whatever cheeses, meats, and veggies you think will taste best together!

If you’ve read my bruschetta and/or pesto posts, you’ve probably noticed that I love crostini and can always find a reason to make it. You just can’t beat buttery, crunchy bread. So, naturally, I can’t make antipasto without including some crostini.

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I started to cut the bread in vertical slices. I tried to slice the bread at a slant so that more of the antipasto goodness could sit on top of the bread.

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I then added a tiny bit of butter to each side of each slice and placed it in a hot pan. I just want to brown each side a bit.

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While I was waiting for the bread to brown, I started to chop some mini heirloom tomatoes. Because tomatoes were the only veggies I planned to use in this antipasto, I wanted a variety of color. Trader Joe’s sells a really great package of assorted heirloom tomatoes, which is great if you’re looking for a bunch of different colors but don’t want to buy three packages of tomatoes.

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Because I was serving the tomatoes with the buttery crostini, I didn’t feel the need to drizzle them in any olive oil. I just sprinkled them with a bit of salt and added them to the plate next to the burrata cheese.

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I chose to use burrata for this because it’s one of favorite cheeses ever (and that’s saying a lot coming from someone who literally loves every kind of cheese). It’s basically like mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) on steroids. It’s so mild, yet so creamy and OMG so good. If you haven’t tried it, I highly, highly recommend it.

I took the crostini off the stove and added it on the plate along with some prosciutto.

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Voilà! A super easy and even more delicious antipasto!!

 

Making “The Most Luxurious Weeknight Pasta”

I don’t know about y’all, but my entire Facebook feed is filled with food videos…from Buzzfeed Tasty to Food Network to Southern Living. I have always loved watching cooking shows on TV and I feel like these videos are cooking shows jampacked into just a few minutes. They are so informative and fun. I always save the ones that look really good and go back to my “Saved” videos on Facebook when I don’t know what I want cook.

So, that happened earlier this week. I went back to my “Saved” videos and stumbled across this one that I had saved from Bon Appétit (you can print out a version of the recipe here!) They described the pasta with mushrooms and prosciutto as “the most luxurious weeknight pasta” that could be prepared in about 20 minutes. I was sold.

I think Italian food is the easiest kind of food to make because it’s so adaptable. You can personalize and adjust most recipes to fit with whatever you have in your kitchen. As long as you’re working with the core ingredients (for this recipe, pasta, prosciutto, olive oil), there’s no way it’s going to taste bad! 

I started off by cooking/frying some prosciutto in a pan with olive oil. I love prosciutto so much and basically subsided on it as my main form of protein while abroad. If you haven’t tried prosciutto, I highly recommend it. If you like pork, you will love prosciutto. Prosciutto is just that good.

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However, this recipe requires you to get prosciutto really crispy, so you could totally substitute bacon for this part, if that’s what you have/prefer. Once it starts to get kind of bubbly, you should remove it from the pan and let it cool off/rest on a paper towel. The prosciutto will continue to shrink once it’s moved to the paper towel. I like really crispy bacon, so I cooked mine longer than they do in the video and that’s why it really resembles bacon in the picture below. But if you like your bacon at average crispiness, I would recommend that you remove the prosciutto from the pan after the prosciutto starts to crisp and shrink up.

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From there, I added some baby portobello mushrooms to the pan. I cooked the mushrooms in the same oil that I cooked the prosciutto in because the prosciutto left behind some of its fat and flavor in the oil. 

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I added about a tablespoon of butter to give the mushrooms a nice brown color. As soon as they browned, I added about a half an onion and three cloves of garlic. Because how can you possibly cook an Italian meal without garlic?

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I cooked everything together for a few more minutes and then added a cup of chicken stock.

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While I let everything marinate in the pan, I added some dried fettuccine to boiling water. It’s important to stick with dried pasta for this part because dried pasta has a longer cooking time than fresh pasta and that will give us enough time to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce! 

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Once the pasta was about a few minutes away from being al dente, I used tongs to transfer the pasta from the boiling water to the pan. I also added a cup of the starchy, boiling water to the sauce to help the sauce take on a thicker consistency. This is something you can do with pretty much any sauce to make it thicker without actually adding any ingredients!

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I then continued to use the tongs to mix the pasta into the sauce. The recipe calls for this to be done in a dutch oven, but I don’t have one at school (I wish I did!) and I feel like it was definitely doable in a really big pan. 

Once I had mixed the the pasta and sauce together for a few minutes, I noticed that the pasta was finally cooked al dente. At that point, I added a little bit of cream to the pan and continued to mix everything together.

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I stirred this for about one minute before crumbling up half of the crispy prosciutto and adding it to the pan. You don’t want to do this until you’re ready to serve it because the prosciutto will become soggy in the sauce if it sits too long. 

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I quickly mixed half of the prosciutto into the pasta and then divided it up into bowls. I sprinkled the remainder of the prosciutto on top of the pasta.

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Buon appetito!! This was delicious! While I wasn’t able to do this in 20 minutes like the video said, it definitely didn’t take me much longer to make!

Blog Reflection and Analytics:

Food has always been one of my biggest passions in life. It has always been something that has united my family together and given us something to talk about. I grew up watching (and trying to help!) my grandma and aunts make classic Italian dishes. My grandma’s ravioli is something I haven’t and won’t ever try to make on my own! When I was in fourth grade, I would come from school and watch the Food Network everyday. I made food seem like so much less of a mystery to me. I loved how so many unique recipes could be made from such simple ingredients. I also loved watching shows like Good Eats and learning about foods and dishes from other cultures.

This love of food followed me throughout high school and college, however, I feel like I really fell in love with food and cooking in a whole new way after studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. I mean, how could I not? Farmers, chefs, store owners poured their heart and soul into their food. Every food and dish came with a story. They didn’t just want to sell you something; they wanted to teach you something, to show you something. Things as simple as pasta and olive oil were tied to thousands of years of history and legend. In Italy, it seemed as if food could cure the world. It was inspirational and, honestly, very moving.

I started this blog with a focus on Italian food because I 1.) love Italian food and 2.) wanted to try to capture some of that magic I found while abroad. I really enjoy writing this blog and I hope that some of you enjoy reading it, too.

I don’t think my blog appeals to a very clear demographic. While I think most food blogs are targeted to the post-college age range, I think mine appeals to college students (mainly because I am a college student) and college graduates. However, I don’t think I necessarily appeal to one gender more than another. But, I would love your feedback. Who do you think I appeal to the most on this site?

When looking at my analytics on WordPress, I was very surprised to see that I had gotten a little bit of international traffic on my site.

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I also saw that a lot of traffic was redirected from some other #SMPASocial sites, so a special shoutout and thank you for that!

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I found that my blog generally received the most views on Wednesdays (before we have comments due), which I expected to see based on my own commenting patterns.

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I did, however, receive the most weekly views on my blog during the last week of January, which I did not expect.

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In fact, my number of weekly views has decreased over the course of the semester, so I have proposed these solutions to boost engagement on my site:

  1. Tweet new blog posts out with the #SMPASocial hashtag every week to make it easier to find my new posts
  2. Begin sharing my posts on my personal Facebook page
  3. Boost my own engagement with other food blogs by liking/commenting on at least 5 food blogs every week

 

 

Risotto…The Ultimate Comfort Food

While my mom loves risotto, it was never a food she ever made at home for dinner.

I never even attempted to make risotto in my kitchen until I was abroad last semester. One of my friend’s in Umbra’s Food Studies program had done it before and promised all of us that it was much easier than we thought. We settled on making a red wine and mushroom risotto. After watching her make it and helping out a bit, I agreed with her. It did seem a lot easier to make than I had anticipated. 

While I made risotto a few more times while abroad, I still didn’t feel totally confident in my risotto-making skills enough to not follow a recipe. So, it was a natural choice for me to look for guidance from my ultimate culinary inspiration, Giada De Laurentiis. While she has many risotto recipes (not surprising), I settled on her Red Wine Risotto with Peas recipe because I had never eaten risotto with peas before.

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The recipe (and most risotto recipes, I’ve found) really don’t require that many ingredients. For this one, I started with arborio rice, chicken stock, olive oil, butter, a dry red wine, parmesan cheese, onion, garlic, peas, and parsley. I had most of these ingredients in my kitchen and only had to buy the arborio rice and fresh parsley.

Even then, I think most risotto recipes are very adaptable. The two constants (or, things I’ve never not used while making risotto) are arborio rice and chicken/beef/vegetable stock. Arborio rice is a really starchy, white rice that makes it much easier to get that creamy texture we all crave in risotto. While I have heard some people say you can substitute white rice for arborio, I have also heard that arborio typically yields the best results. I have always stuck to arborio, but I am curious to hear: have you ever tried making risotto with white rice? Did it turn out well? 

However, I definitely wouldn’t recommend using any other types of rice (basmati, jasmine) to make risotto. Check out this infographic for some quick facts on different types of rice!

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So, for the Red Wine Risotto with Peas, I started by bringing about 3 1/2-4 cups of chicken stock to a boil and then leaving it to simmer on the stovetop. While the chicken stock was beginning to boil, I chopped up half an onion and about 3 cloves of garlic and added it to a pan with a few tablespoons of butter (to brown everything really well) and a few more tablespoons of olive oil (to be more healthy). This is the same pan that you’ll be cooking the risotto in, so be sure it’s pretty big!

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Once the onion and garlic cloves developed a translucent, but slightly browned color, I added one cup of arborio rice to the pan.

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I sauteed the onion, garlic, and rice together for a few minutes. This step allows the rice to toast a bit in the pan, something Giada says gives them a “nutty flavor.” After a few minutes, I added about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of dry red wine to the pan and allowed the rice to absorb the wine’s flavor for about 1 minute.

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From there, I took about 3/4 cup of the simmering chicken stock and added it to the pan.

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It was at this point that my risotto sort of started to resemble ground beef and, for that, I am sorry (I probably added a little bit too much red wine.)

After the chicken stock is added, it is important to consistently stir the mixture. This constant attention is what allows the rice to cook and gives the risotto that super creamy texture. The mixture should be stirred about 6 minutes before another 3/4 cup of chicken stock is added and then another 6 minutes before another 3/4 cup of chicken stock is added.

While I stirred the risotto, I brought the chicken stock to a boil again. After the 12 minutes were up, I added the remaining 3/4 cup chicken stock to the mixture. However, this time, I left everything to simmer and stirred far less frequently. I used this time to chop a few tablespoons of fresh parsley, grate about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, and transfer about a 1/3 cup of frozen peas into a bowl.

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After the mixture simmered about 2 minutes, I added the remaining chicken stock (only a few tablespoons) and let it simmer for another 5 minutes. This part is what really allows the rice to cook.

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At this point, you can really see how the risotto mixture has taken on a very creamy texture.

After everything had simmered down, I added the parsley, parmesan cheese, and frozen peas (the heat from the risotto warmed them immediately!) and plated it up!

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This was my first-time doing risotto totally on my own and it actually wasn’t that hard! The most difficult part is remembering to continually stir the rice mixture with the chicken stock. But, it tasted delicious! I know I will be making this again!

I Made Homemade Pasta for the First-Time

I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love pasta.

Fettuccine, campanelle, pappardelle, cavatelli, rigatoni…the list goes on and on. There a million ways to make and cut pasta and they’re all absolutely delicious. You can’t go wrong when you’re in pasta territory.

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For me, it’s comfort in a bowl and food for the soul in a way that no other food is or can ever be. The sight of some old-school spaghetti and meatballs brings up a whirl of family memories from my childhood. The thought of my favorite Umbrian dish, umbricelli alla norcina, reminds me of the super long (but also super delicious and even more fun) dinners my study abroad friends and I would gather around a tiny table to eat at our favorite restaurants in Perugia.

Italians believe that food has the power to unite people. It brings families together. It is best way to show that you care for someone. And, I will say, making pasta at home is definitely a labor of love.

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But, it is still very doable. And soooooooooooooooo worth it. 

While I have helped my grandma and aunt make homemade pasta in the past, I had never attempted to make my own. But, I decided to embark on this new challenge over spring break.

All of the recipes online are pretty identical. All call for three core ingredients: flour, eggs, and a pinch of salt. I synthesized a few that I saw online with what I remembered my grandma doing, but mainly followed Mario Batali‘s recipe because how could I go wrong with a co-owner of Eataly?

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I started by adding all of the flour (about 3 1/2 cups) and a tablespoon of salt to the bowl. I then used my hands to press the flour up on the sides of the bowl to create a sort of flour-bowl within the bowl.

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From there, I cracked 4 eggs right into the center of the flour.

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I then used a fork to whisk the eggs and slowly began incorporating the flour into the egg mixture.

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The dough really started to come together after I had incorporated about 3/4 of the flour. From there, I transferred the dough to the countertop and started to knead it, slowly adding more flour.

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This part was the most difficult part of the pasta-making process because it’s all about adding just enough flour to the mix so that it’s not sticky, but not too that much that it’s too dry and falling apart. I really didn’t know where this line was, so just used my best judgement and crossed my fingers that everything would turn out all right (it did.) This instinct definitely seems to be something that is learned through practice. I gained a whole new appreciation for how my grandma understands dough and just knows when it is ready to move on to the next step.

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I kneaded the dough to the point that I could cut it open just a bit and not see any air bubbles.

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I then dusted the ball of dough in a bit of excess flour before wrapping the ball of dough in plastic wrap and setting it aside for 30 minutes at room temperature.

I used this time to get started on the tomato sauce for the pasta (but, I’ll save that recipe for another blog post!)

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Once the dough is done resting, the fun part begins: rolling and cutting the dough!

If you are dedicated and want a good arm workout, this part can totally be done with just a rolling pin and a pasta cutter (or knife). However, you can also find tons of reasonably-priced pasta rollers and cutters online. For example, check out this one at Walmart for less than $20. If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, you can buy a pasta roller and cutter that attaches right to the front of it. While definitely pricey-er, it is a great option if you want to cut down on clutter in your kitchen.

I used the KitchenAid pasta roller attachment because that’s what we had at my house but the technique is the same no matter how you choose to roll! (ha ha)

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You want to start by rolling the dough as thin as possible. It is important to take the ball of dough and divide it into 4 sections. Take one section and slightly pound it with your hand and feed it through the widest setting on the pasta roller. After running the dough through the roller once, fold the first-third of the long sheet of dough onto the second-third and then onto the third-third. Gently knead the dough together and run it through the widest setting on the pasta roller again. This helps the gluten in the dough bond together better. After this, begin to decrease the number on the pasta roller. This will help you roll the pasta dough thinner each time. The widest setting on the KitchenAid attachment was 9 and I didn’t bring it down past 4 because my dough was starting to get fragile. I was really happy with the thickness of my pasta after it was cooked, so I really don’t think it’s necessary to go below 4 unless you are making angel hair or want a really thin pasta.

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After rolling and flattening the sections of dough into long sheets of dough, I took the roller attachment out and placed the fettuccine cutter attachment in. This was, by far, the easiest part of the entire process. You literally just feed the sheets of dough through the cutter and get freshly-cut fettuccine through the bottom!

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I lightly dusted the fettuccine strands with a bit of flour and wrapped them around my hand to form these little fettuccine nests. This part is not required at all, I just thought that these would be easier to transfer to the boiling water than the long strands of fettuccine that came out of the pasta cutter.

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Once all of the pasta was cut, I transferred the little fettuccine nests to a pot of boiling water to cook. It cooked so fast! The fettuccine was perfectly al-dente after only 3 or 4 minutes in the water.

After that, just drain it, cover it in some delicious sauce, sprinkle it with some tangy Romano or Parmigiano, and enjoy!!!

While it took a few hours to complete the whole process, making homemade pasta on my own wasn’t as hard as I had previously thought. It was really fun and I can’t wait to make my next batch. I totally think this is something that everyone has to try doing at least once!!

Addendum:

Our class blog assignment for this week was to attempt to engage with a social media influencer online. I chose to engage with celebrity chef Mario Batali on Twitter. I tweeted at him four times: once at night, twice in the morning, and once in the afternoon. He engages with his followers quite often on Twitter (offering restaurant recommendations, food advice, retweeting followers who cook his recipes, etc.) so I still might have a chance that he will engage with one of my tweets! I will keep y’all posted.

These are my tweets to Mario Batali:

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The Art of Il Caffè

I love coffee in general but, like many other college students, always seem to gain an even greater appreciation for coffee during midterms and finals.

So, I decided to take a bit of study break to venture to the Illy caffé that is attached to the DuPont Renaissance hotel, per recommendation of Koralie on my Via Umbria blog post!

Illy is one of the most popular coffee brands in Italy. During my time there, almost every bar (the same thing we refer to as “cafes” in America!) served Illy or Lavazza coffee.

Naturally, I was very excited to try get my Illy fix!

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I love walking in and seeing all-Illy-everything. While many coffee bars in Italy served Illy coffee, I can’t remember visiting an Illy caffé like this one.

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I wanted to get a nice sample of their offerings and ordered a large cappuccino, a double espresso, and a cinnamon roll.

Both of my drinks were given to me in paper cups, which is very nice if you want to bring your drink on-the-go. While I know this isn’t very noteworthy in comparison to other American coffee shops, it kind of caught me off-guard because I was never able to get my coffee to-go in Perugia! This is reflective of the general Italian attitude towards take-out (they hate it) and the cultural belief that you should just eat/drink whatever you ordered at the place that you ordered it- even for coffee! Throughout the day, most Italians line up at the “bar” near the espresso machine and quickly drink their shot of espresso in a few sips before leaving. However, as you can see in one the pictures, this cafe does have traditional ceramic coffee cups (smaller ones for espresso and larger ones for cappuccinos, americanos, etc.) that I’m sure they will make your drink in, if you ask! It’s the best of both worlds!

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Italians definitely share the same passion for coffee that I do. It didn’t matter where you were, it seemed like you were never more than a few minutes from some of the best espresso in the world – even gas station stores (every single one that I stopped at during my time traveling around Italy!) had a full espresso machine. Could you imagine being able to say the same while traveling around America?

However, most Italians do not have an espresso machine in their apartment or home. But, does that mean they must sacrifice drinking high-quality, delicious espresso at home? No way! Italians have found their answer in the moka pot.

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This was our moka pot in Perugia! This picture was clearly taken at a time that we really needed to clean our stovetop…

I would venture to say that every Italian house or apartment has at least one moka pot, if not more than that! Moka pots can quickly brew the most delicious and fresh coffee right on your stovetop. I think I used ours every single day!

However, moka pots require a certain type of espresso. I was filled with a burst of nostalgia when I saw Illy’s moka blend.

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Check out this video to learn more about how to make coffee using a moka pot: Moka Pot Coffee Making Guide!

The Best Pesto You’ll Ever Taste (and Nut-Free, too!)

I love pesto. It’s one of the most versatile spreads to ever exist. You can layer it on sandwiches, mix it with pasta, cook it with chicken or seafood, or layer it on toasted (or, untoasted bread) and eat it plain. The possibilities that one has with pesto are endless. Pesto has no limits.

I always look forward to coming home because I 1.) get to see my family and 2.) finally have access to a food processor. Because I came home for the long weekend, I thought that this weekend would be the perfect time to make some pesto.

Pesto, like bruschetta, is very easy to make and even easier to personalize. You can easily adapt everything I’m about to tell you to suit your preferences and tastes. You can add more garlic and use less cheese or use less olive oil and add more basil. It’s totally up to you and it’ll still taste just as good. This is my favorite thing about Italian food.

First, I always want to start with a TON of basil. It’s always best to get way more than you think you’ll need because it virtually disappears once you start to chop and mix it all together in the food processor.

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My grocery store at home in North Carolina, Harris Teeter, sells fresh basil in these neat little bags. The basil plant is still physically attached to a block of dirt when you buy it. I don’t know if this actually helps the plant stay fresher longer, but it feels like the closest thing that I can get to fresh without growing it in my backyard.

From there, I detached all of the basil leaves from the stems and rinsed the leaves off in a colander. I then lay all of the basil leaves on a few paper towels and patted them dry. The leaves don’t need to be bone dry, but I tried to remove any excess moisture before putting them into the food processor. As I mentioned before, I believe that exact measurements are unnecessary for something like this. But, as a general idea, I added about three cups of tightly-compacted basil to the food processor. From there, I just added three cloves of raw garlic to the food processor and prepared to start chopping!

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I pulsed the basil and the garlic together a few times before adding the olive oil. I utilized the pulse feature as I slowly drizzled the olive oil into the basil-garlic mixture. I think this helps blend the basil, garlic, and olive oil all together and helps me avoid adding too much olive oil.

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Once I felt that the olive oil had added a nice consistency to the mixture, I removed the mixture from the food processor and put it in an airtight container. Don’t worry! It starts to look more like the pesto we all know and love once the parmesan cheese is added, which I’ll get to in a bit!

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I put the basil mixture into the fridge to chill and then got ready to make some garlic crostini for the pesto, because it’s impossible to go wrong there.

I sliced two medium-sized baguettes into vertical slices and lightly spread some salted butter on each side. I lined the slices of bread up on a cookie sheet and sprinkled them with parsley and just a pinch of garlic salt before broiling them in the oven.

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Because I was broiling the crostini, I only cooked the first side for about 1.5 minutes before flipping the slices. I broiled the second side for about 1 minute before removing it from the oven.

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Once the crostini was done, I removed the basil mixture from the fridge and mixed in about 1/2 of parmesan cheese. I would definitely recommend waiting to add the cheese until you want to eat the pesto. I don’t think it stays as well and fresh after the cheese is added.

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The basil mixture finally becomes true pesto with the addition of cheese.

I didn’t even think to get a picture of the pesto on top of the crostini – I was too excited to eat it! And, I think my family was, too!

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Bloggers that Inspire Me

I often read other Italian food blogs for inspiration for this blog. Here are some of the blogs that I keep going back to, you should check them out!

And, my biggest inspiration of all: Giada De Laurentiis!!

Bruschetta…the only food I need

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved tomatoes and garlic, but especially tomatoes. I devoured tomato sauce, tomato soup, tomato juice…you name it, I ate it!

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My love of tomatoes has not been lost with time. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the whole “a tomato is a fruit/vegetable” debate (while I know that they’re technically fruit, I will always consider a tomato to be a vegetable), I would classify tomatoes as both my favorite fruit AND vegetable.

For this reason, nothing makes my tastebuds more excited than some good bruschetta (broo-sket-tuh). It is the perfect, timeless combination of pomodori (tomatoes), aglio (garlic), basilico (basil), and olio d’oliva (olive oil) all stacked on top of crunchy, buttery pane (bread)!

While bruschetta is typically thought of as a warmer-weather food, I think it tastes just as good in the winter! This nice weather we’ve been getting in D.C. doesn’t hurt either…

I started by mincing 5 cloves of fresh garlic.

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I then added the minced garlic to a warm pan on very low heat with about 4 tablespoons of olive oil. I tried the Il Molino olive oil that I picked up at Via Umbria and wrote about last week. The olive oil was delicious and added the best flavor to the dish!

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I wasn’t looking to necessarily brown the garlic. I just wanted to let it all simmer for a few minutes before adding the garlic and oil in with the tomatoes. I wanted the olive oil to absorb some of the garlic’s flavor, but without losing all of the bite you get from raw garlic.

While the olive oil and garlic mingled in the pan, I started to chop up a carton of Sungold tomatoes.

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Sungold tomatoes are similar in appearance to cherry tomatoes, but tend to be even sweeter in flavor and have a distinct orange color. Serious Eats called Sungolds “the closest thing to nature’s candy that you can possibly imagine.” I agree!

I then switched to preparing my second type of tomatoes: Campari tomatoes. Campari tomatoes are kind-of like a larger version of cherry tomatoes. They are sweet (not as sweet as the Sungolds) and lower in acidity that larger tomatoes, such as beefsteak tomatoes. When tomatoes are the star of any dish, Campari tomatoes are a necessity.

You learn more about the differences between tomato varieties and get one step closer to your dream bruschetta with these articles from The Seattle Times and Serious Eats.

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While it’s certainly not vital to use two different types of tomatoes in bruschetta, I think it is what helps take your bruschetta to the next level. It adds color to the dish, as well as an extra dimension of flavor.

I added the Campari tomatoes to a bowl with the Sungolds and got to work on chopping a few fresh basil leaves.

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I removed the garlic and oil from the pan and added it to a bowl with the tomatoes and basil.

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This is always the best part! I mixed it all together and then placed it in the refrigerator to chill and to let the flavors blend together a bit more.

While the tomato mixture was in the fridge, I started to chop a baguette into diagonal slices. I heated some butter in the same pan that I had used to sautée the olive oil and garlic and then added the baguette slices face-down. I flipped each slice to allow both sides of the bread to brown well. I chose to use butter for this part rather than olive oil because I find that butter typically browns better than olive oil, especially with bread.

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After both sides of the bread browned, I removed the bread from the pan and set it aside.

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I removed the tomato mixture from the fridge and proceeded to drizzle a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar to the bowl and added a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese.

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I then got ready for the final step: assembly!!

I just took little spoonfuls of the tomato mixture and piled it on top of the toasted bread.

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Don’t be afraid of putting too much on! It may get a little messy when you’re trying to eat it but I try to savor every last bite of the delicious tomato mixture that goes on top!

I love cooking Italian food because many of their staple dishes are very simple. You don’t need to follow a specific recipe or know how to do anything really fancy in the kitchen to cook something that tastes absolutely delicious. While this recipe uses just a few simple ingredients, it has tremendous flavor. If you are someone who isn’t really a fan of tomatoes, this could be the dish that converts you!

Buon appetito!!

A Little Taste of Perugia Right Here in D.C.

I went to Via Umbria yesterday and, y’all, it was amazing.

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Via Umbria is an Italian market, cafe, and restaurant all mixed into one and located in Georgetown. The concept is very similar to the Eatalys that my friends and I frequented in Italy, but with a special focus on the foods and culture of Umbria [oom-bre-ah]…the same region that I studied abroad in!

While Umbria often lives in the shadow of Tuscany, I was so happy to see my favorite region getting some much-needed attention and, of all places, here in D.C.!

As I walked into the store, I felt immediately transported to Umbria. The walls were lined with the colorful ceramic pottery that Umbria is world-famous for.

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In front of the store, they had fresh vegetables and lots of little goodies on display.

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As I turned the corner, I found that they had a great selection of Umbrian wines. I loved seeing so many familiar labels!

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I walked out of the wine room and found a huge display of dried Italian meats and cheeses.

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I did a quick run-through of the whole store first – I couldn’t believe how much stuff they had! I wanted it all.

I went into the store with the intention of buying olive oil. High-quality olive oil can be difficult to find and I have really been missing the olive oil from Perugia. The New York Times even wrote an article on how great the olive oil in Umbria is, so it’s not just me who loves this stuff!

I settled on a nice bottle of Il Molino olive oil. I haven’t been able to try it just yet, but I can’t wait to!

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I also really wanted to pick up a nice Umbrian wine because they’re impossible to find in America! While Umbria doesn’t produce quite as much wine as Tuscany, Umbria is famous for Montefalco, Orvieto, and Torgiano wines.

I grabbed my personal favorite from my time in Umbria: Montefalco. Because they were having a 10%-off sale on the one I selected, I was able to sample the wine before purchasing it.

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Disclaimer: I am 21 years old.

But, I couldn’t leave Via Umbria without una pausa per un caffè (“a pause” for coffee – something we did every 45 minutes at my Italian university!)

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The espresso was awesome and tasted just how I remembered it. I have been on the hunt for a quality espresso bar here in D.C. and didn’t expect to find one at Via Umbria but I am very happy that I did!

I think Via Umbria is an amazing place to go if you’re looking for quality, authentic Italian food! I know I will be going back soon!

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