Cooking For A Cause – Cirillo’s Culinary Academy

Chefs Challenge


On Saturday, February 8th 2014, I was apart of a great cause which united two of my biggest passions, my love for cooking and my interest in charity & fundraising.   Mt. Sinai Hospital hosted the Chef’s Challenge with multiple celebrity chefs attending, including one of my favourites Giada de Laurentiis.  I was thrilled!

I raised enough money to participate in the Chef’s challenge. I competed on stage with the top 50 fundraisers in an “Iron Chef” type setting!  Teams were led by celebrity chefs and given a secret ingredient to signal – it’s show time!  If you were a TOP fundraiser, you got to choose which celebrity chef you’d like to work with, my goal was to have Giada lead my team! This dream did not come to fruition, however, I was led by another amazing chef David Rocco. We had a blast 😉

Given my medical history, treatment at Mt. Sinai and fantasy to be a leading chef I couldn’t think of a more fitting event to put my energy into!  I was really excited to participate and appreciated everyone’s help in getting me on that stage. I look forward to joining again next year!


As a Pre Chef’s Challenge event Narrative Nikki and I spent an evening at Cirillo’s Culinary Academy.  About 50 peopled joined the evening in what turned out to be a super fun cooking class.  We made chicken cacciatore, mushroom risotto and a dessert fit for a queen! The facility was large, clean, functional and perfect for this type of engagement!


Chefs Challenge 2Misnikks cooking classpre chefs challenge - Kate and Giada


Torta Della Nonna

There are many versions of this cake, as the meaning of Torta Della Nonna is grandmothers cake! Kate and I made the following for a dinner party and it turned out okay for non-italian beginners! It needed to be a touch sweeter so keep that in mind when baking 🙂

Pre baked

For the crema pasticcera

  • 1 litre milk
  • 350g caster sugar
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 6 egg yolks
  • a pinch of salt
  • 125g plain flour

For the cake

  • 500g sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 50g pine nuts
  • 50g raisins, blanched
  • 50ml rum
  • 500ml crema pasticcera (see above)
  • 1 egg beaten
  • vanilla sugar, to serve
    • For the crema pasticcera pour a small cup of milk from the litre and put the rest into a saucepan with half of the sugar, lemon zest and vanillia pod and heat slowly until boiling.

    • In the meantime, lightly whisk the egg yolks and the pinch of salt in a bowl to break them. Sift the flour into the bowl, whisking gently and making sure that no lumps form, then whisk in the remaining sugar, and finally the remaining small cup of milk. Whisk until smooth.

    • By this time the milk in the pan should almost have boiled. Remove the vanilla pod and lemon zest, and then pour the milk on to the egg mixture, whisking briskly whilst doing so. Return the mixture to the heat and bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon all the time. As the mixture boils it will begin to get thicker and then suddenly go very thick. At this point it is ready and you need to remove the saucepan from the heat and cool the mixture as quickly as possible. A good way to do this is to place the base of the saucepan into cold or iced water and stir the mixture gently so a skin does not form as it cools.

    • Now for the cake, preheat the oven to 180C and roll out the pastry and cut out a disc with a diameter of about 25cm and transfer to a baking sheet. Mix the pine nuts, raisins and rum with the crema pasticcera. Spread the mixture over the shortcrust pastry to form a dome shape. Roll out the remaining pastry large enough to cover the dome. Press the edges together and cut it neatly. Brush with the egg and pierce a few times with a folk. Bake in the preheated oven for about an hour or until golden. Remove and let it cool. Transfer to a plate. Sprinkle with vanilla sugar and serve.


Finished product