Recipe: Basil Salt

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Last week, my garden was overrun with basil.  I didn’t know what to do, as the space was competing with tomatoes, and the tomatoes were quickly winning.  It’s a massacre out there for all the other veggies.

my garden

I can hardly tell what is what over there.

I have been doing everything I can to preserve the beautiful basil my garden produced, and this recipe is no different.  Easy and super fast, you can add this salt from everything to tomato and corn salad or cheeses, to pasta dishes and desserts. Basil salt is awesome! It adds just that beautiful freshness to anything it touches, and is beautiful and bright green like the herb that produced it.

It lasts for six months too, so there is plenty of time to taste summer long into winter.

Ingredients

1/2 C tightly packed basil leaves

1/2 C kosher salt

Method

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.  Pulse basil and salt in blender until incorporated.  Mixture will be clumpy.  Spread onto baking sheet lined with parchment or tin foil and bake until dried, about 30 minutes.

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basil salt after drying but before blending for a second time

Take dried salt and pulse again in blender until powder.  Store in airtight container for six months or more.

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Used the salt to top this dish of tomatoes and ricotta cheese. Perfect basil flavor and nice hit of salt

 

-L

 

Recipe:Stuffed Squash Blossoms

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This summer, I finally decided to tackle something that I have been either too busy, or too afraid to tackle: My very own garden.  I know it sounds silly, but I have dreamed of growing my own food for some time now.  I have to say, it has certainly been a learning experience.  What to grow, and how to grow it, and how to protect it from the environment around it is still something I am learning, and probably will be for seasons to come.

One thing my garden has been very bountiful in giving me is squash blossoms.  While my plants are hit or miss, and have produced some delicious summer squash varieties, I think my favorite thing to collect are the beautiful, golden–yellow flowers that are delicious and earthy in every way.

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This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the blossoms: stuffed with fresh cheese and deep–fried, lightly salted, and eaten with sparkling wine.

Deep Fried Squash Blossoms

6-12 squash blossoms

2 C vegetable or other neutral, high heat oil

For the filling:

1 C ricotta (I used goat’s milk, but cow’s milk is also perfect)

2 Tbsp heavy cream

1 tbsp chopped chives

zest of 1 lemon

lemon juice, salt, pepper to taste

 

For the batter:

6 oz AP flour

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp salt

200 ml seltzer water

Method:

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, until bubbling, around 350 degrees F.

Whisk ingredients for batter together and set aside

mix filling ingredients, mixing together until a smooth paste forms.  fill into a pastry bag, or a ziplock bag.  Cut the tip off the pastry bag or a corner off the ziplock bag, so you are able to pipe the filling into the blossom. Try not to overfill, and close each petal around the filling so it forms a nice little pocket.

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Drop each blossom into the batter and directly into the hot oil, frying only a few at a time, about 3 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and enjoy!

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This is an amazing summer treat!

-L

 

Ending One Chapter, Starting Another

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Recently (finally), I graduated from culinary school.  It’s amazing! My love of cooking has definitely taken me down a path I could not have predicted.  Of course the obvious (and often asked) question is: “what’s next?”

In short, to cook. As much as possible and as for as many people as possible.  I’m not a simple girl by any means, but my desires are pretty straightforward.

“So how was culinary school?” Well, that’s the question I get second–most often, tied with “what do you like to cook?” Just to get the latter out of the way, I like to cook anything and everything.  Explaining school is a little more lengthy of an answer.

my first day of culinary school

The first year seemed long, with classes covering the basics and lots of academic classes.  Everyone was feeling each other out and sizing up the competition; cooking will always be known as a competitive field, but some are comparing themselves to others while others only compete with themselves.  It can be an interesting mental game; definitely easy to get caught up in everything or anything that is going on around you.  It was here I learned my first lesson: the only person I should be worrying about doing better than is the person I was yesterday.  Cooking is self improvement; there is nothing more satisfying than creating something beautiful that you can eat.  I learned that it is so important not to lose sight of why I cook: to bring others joy, and hopefully (in the words of Daenerys Targaryen) “to leave the world better than when we found it. ”

I’m with her.

Things really changed for me during my summer externship. I was working in fine dining, and really learning how far I could push myself.  I learned how to taste for specific flavors and find balance in food; I was also exposed to new restaurants and the lifestyle of a cook in the big city. I learned my second lesson during this time: No cook was made in a day. Every day I tried to perfect my knife cuts, to work faster, season better, to anticipate what was needed of me. I couldn’t see much change on the day-to-day basis, but when it was all over, I couldn’t believe how much I had learned and grew in such a short period.  While I was exhausted at the end of it, I was more dedicated than ever to learning as much as I could about my craft.

Then our second year started, and I swear, I blinked my eyes and graduation time was almost upon me. Classes changed every three weeks, the academic classes dried up, and all of a sudden it was game time: cooking every day, cooking in the restaurants on campus for the public, and learning the more advanced principals the school had to offer.  I was working two jobs, going to school, and visiting my friends almost every weekend in Boston.  It all moved by so quickly, and I wish I could have paused it, especially at certain moments, to examine each second of my life with more understanding.  But that’s impossible, so I still had to learn the hardest lesson of all; one I am still struggling with  and I think most people do: Life moves by fast.  Focus on what is important to you and try not to let the rest enter your mind.  Stress is the most common emotion that eats at  me, and I had a lot of it during school.  It wasn’t always pretty, but I got through it all, with jobs intact, all my fingers, and friends that would still talk to me.  Best of all I got another diploma to hang on my wall, a psyical product of my achievement, to give me strength when mine own is faltering.

Graduation day- feeling very accompllished

Graduation day- feeling very accomplished

I left my life in Boston to come home to New York and pursue a dream of mine– a hobby that developed into a passion with became my life’s work, and I never looked back.  I was inspired along the way– by friends and family who supported me, my teachers and chefs who guided me, my fellow culinary students that worked with me, fought with me, and ultimately made me stronger– thank you all. My future scares me, but in a good way.  I hope those around me are hungry– I know I sure am.

-L

 

My Top 10 in New York City

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This summer, differing from my normal intentions of plenty of beach time and music, I spent my summer working hard during an internship, a taste of what my life is to become in the coming years post culinary school. I was lucky enough to land an internship at Gramercy Tavern, a New York institution as far as classic American fare is concerned. I was incredibly lucky to work there, and learned an incredible amount and was inspired every day, something for which I am very grateful.

I used my time in New York as wisely as I could, and tried to eat out as much and as often as I could, so I could get a feel for what the scene is like in New York.  I complied this list out of the places I’ve eaten in New York- my favorite 10- as a suggestion for those looking for places to eat during the colder and slower winter season, or even to save for the (thankfully) upcoming spring season. There are some standby spots and some newer places, so try and enjoy!

Any thoughts on those places? Suggestions for other places I MUST try?? I am SO willing to hear all about it in the comments.

 

Riverpark

Tom Colicchio’s East River hub has stellar views- and incredible food to boot. It was seasonal, fresh, and eclectic;  I loved the Burrata with tomatoes (classic, I know, but still delicious).  I had my first experience trying corn ice cream here, and throughly enjoyed it.  I can see what all the hype was about last summer (and probably this one as well).  Riverpark is also home to one of the smallest but most adorable farms, or outdoor large gardens– which supplements the restaurant.  Talk about local, and definitely a feat in any city, but especially New York City.

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450 E. 29th street

(212) 729-9790

 

 Upland

California–Inspired and incredibly chic, Upland has dishes with bold flavors inspired by the seasons. The decor is awesome, I spotted a few celebs while at the bar (if you’re into that sorta thing), but it still felt causal enough that I could roll through in jeans. The Beef tartare is a must, as well as the crispy duck wings. The pasta estrella was to die for, with chicken livers and sherry.

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345 Park Ave South

(212) 686-1006

 

Buvette

Probably the most adorable place I’ve eaten at in New York.  A tiny hole in the wall, food is prepared and served right at the counter, and menus are printed daily on small little booklets.  An outdoor patio also is available when the season is right, but watching the bustle behind the counter and their incredible practice of putting together dishes right in front of you was a treat.  A little slice of Paris in the big city; the sister restaurant is actually located in the city of lights (or romance? Not sure what the kids are calling Paris these days).  The menu is simple, homey French, done very well. Brunch is sublime. The wine, of course, is French and excellent.

Breakfast done right at Buvette

Breakfast done right at Buvette

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42 Grove Street

 

Virginia’s

Cozy and upscale, the food was so good here my group ordered the menu twice.  Although the menu has changed since I’ve been, their attention to detail and flavor profiles would get me in the door again.  Try the toast, which changes frequently but was a memorable moment when I went.

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647 East 11th street

(212) 658-0182

 

Burke & Wills

Australian themed restaurant in New York, which is awesome, as I’ve had a little obsession with Australia since visiting last summer.  Housed in an absolutely gorgeous space with windowed roof, intimate feeling and lovely decor that harkens of Australia, the food was awesome as well.  The kangaroo loin was delicious, as was the roo burger.  Opt for the cheese plate to finish, then head upstairs to their private cocktail bar with one of the most knowledgeable barkeeps in Manhattan.

Octopus and Kangaroo at Burke and Wills

Octopus and Kangaroo at Burke and Wills

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226  West 79th Street

(646) 823-9251

 

Momofuku Noodle Bar

The ultimate in tasty, David Chang’s ode to ramen is always busy for a reason.  They don’t take reservations, but if you can grab a seat, try the steamed buns with various fillings and don’t skip the Momofuku Ramen, in all of its porky glory. My only regret was not trying their fried chicken, which needs an advance order of at least 48 hours.  Now I know.

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171 1st Avenue

(212) 777-7773

 

Root +Bone

Tasty southern fare done right, by two Top Chef alums.  Adorable decor. The biscuits are wonderful, as are the dishes that come to mind when you think of southern food: the shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, and strawberry shortcake are all incredible choices. Comfort food at its best.

Incredible biscuits and the grilled peach salad at Root and Bone

Incredible biscuits and the grilled peach salad at Root and Bone

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200 East 3rd Street

(646) 682-7076

The Finch

This newcomer is the brainchild of Gabe McMackin, an alum of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Gramercy Tavern.  Although being open for less than a year at the time, the spot won their first Michelin star last year, quite a feat for any well-known establishment, but a testament to the incredible food being pumped out of the open kitchen.  The atmosphere is open and beautiful, and the food is thoughtful yet innovative.  Smoked egg yolks, a component of one of their summer dishes last year, are an incredible thing, and introduced to be at this establishment.  It is always refreshing to see avant-garde cooking styles, flavors, and techniques, while still maintaining the natural beauty of the ingredients. A must see for any New Yorker, and especially those in Brooklyn looking for a new and invigorating spot.

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smoked egg yolk, puree of “green things”, and pasta

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212 Greene Avenue

(718) 218-4444

Mialino

What an incredible restaurant.  If you enjoy pasta and Italian cuisine (and who doesn’t?) then this is the place for you.  But I wouldn’t expect Chicken Parmesan.  Mialino does beautiful rustic Italian, what I imagine people in Italy actually eat.  They are inspired by classic Roman cuisine, and claim to be a “modern trattoria.” While I’m not sure if this is the case, I can be sure of the food.  A truly incredible meal, I had cheeses, cured meats, tomato salad and grape bruchetta, and of course pasta.  homemade and beautiful, this is how I want every pasta meal to be.  Malfatti with duck ragu was to die for, as well as garganelli with a tomato and olive sauce.  I would highly recommend this spot to anyone looking for an incredible environment and even better food.

Incredible pasta and, salads, and cured meats

Incredible pasta, salads, and cured meats

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2 Lexington Avenue

Inside Gramercy Park Hotel

(212) 777-2410

Gramercy Tavern

I will always love this place.  There is a reason why this restaurant has been a New York institution for over 20 years.  Having worked there (more on that later), I can say that every person in the kitchen– from the Chefs to the prep cooks– cares about the integrity of ingredients.  It is inspiring as a young chef to be exposed to such talent, and it is clear on the plate, whether of not you have culinary experience. I included so many photos because I couldn’t choose which was my favorite– this place was responsible for one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.  House–cured meats, homemade pastas, and beautifully composed salads are just a taste of what is going on there.  The menu is constantly changing due to seasonality, so these photos are out of date, but the attention to detail in not only the flavors but the presentation will remain the same.  While it is pricey, sometimes it is understandable to spend a great deal if you are receiving an incredible experience.  Sit in the tavern if you cannot make a reservation or would like a more relaxed experience, or sit in the dining room for more special occasions.  Either way, make your way here and prepare to be blown away.

One of the best meals in recent memory

One of the best meals in recent memory

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42 E 20th Street

(212) 477-0777

Baking Christmas Pies

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  I don’t know about you, but 2015 flew by.  I know, i know, the old adage is that with every year time seems to move by quicker, but it is scary how that statement actually rings true.  I wish I could go back to my days when it seemed nap time would take forever to be over…but I digress, as this is not a post for reminiscence, but for looking forward to the holiday season.

I recently took a baking class at culinary school, and was not dissapointed.  My teacher, a man who could give Santa a run for his money not only in looks but in joyous personality- was also a certified master baker, and was kind enough to share some tidbits of wisdom with my class which come in handy for the holidays, including how to make pie from scratch.  It’s a lot easier than one would think- I remember before entering culinary school how I would think that it was easier just to buy store-made dough and add the filling myself- but the extra effort is well worth it.

I promise, baking your own pie from scratch will most likely impress friends and family much more than the actual effort needed to make these things. You might not even need to leave your house to obtain these ingredients. Don’t believe me? Check this out:

Pie Dough can be broken down into a simple 3-2-1:

3 lbs flour (cake flour is awesome, but AP will do as well)

2 lbs fat (butter for most standard pies, but lard or other animal fat will work for meat pies)

1 lb water by weight (don’t worry about breaking out the scale for this one: there is an old saying “a pint is a pound the world around” which chefs swear by. In other words, a pound of water is 2 cups, or a pint).

1 oz salt, as needed

This ratio will work if you scale it up or down.  Not sure how much to make? I’ve got another formula to make your life easier:

You will need about 1 oz of dough for every inch in diameter of your pie tin.

So a 9 in diameter pie tin uses about 9 oz, or a little over a half pound, of dough. (I promise, the fanciness that surrounds chefs is all formula memorization and application in the proper circumstances).

Method:

So once you have your dough ingredients, all you have to do is mix them.  For a flakier crust, cut the butter cold into manageable cubes and let mix with the flour in a stand mixer until the mixture has combined into small pebble-like portions.

Then add the water, ice cold, and mix for another 6 seconds.  Seriously, don’t over mix this, or you will have tougher dough than anticipated.

Let this dough chill in the fridge for at least an hour. 

Roll the pie dough out to a 1/4 in thickness, and drape over pie tin. Then add the filling.

My favorite pie to make for the holiday season? 

 Berry pies. Easy, simple, and delicious, using fresh or frozen berries is appropriate. Another simple ratio to remember, this time for the filling:

1.5 lbs berries, fresh or frozen

1 lb sugar 

1 oz cornstarch

Feel free to add fun flavor combos.. For instance, I love to put thinly sliced lemon with my blueberry pies, or elderflower syrup with strawberries. 

You can throw a top piece of dough on your pie to keep the berries in.There will be a lot. 

  
I like to egg wash my dough and sprinkle a little turbanado sugar on top. Bake your pie in the oven at 375 for an hour, or until golden brown. The pie will drop fruit juice, so I would cook on a tray with some parchment paper underneath. 

Take out your pie and let chill before slicing and serving. Then gobble that thing up before your family members get at it. 

  
Happy Holidays!

-L

Fall Beginnings

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I know it’s been forever, and that’s my fault. Working as chef can zap any energy I once had to write, and a summer mending a broken heart can take away enthusiasm to share my culinary experiences. My summer was spent working hard as an intern, exploring New York City’s food scene, and being inspired by food on a whole other level. I have so much to write about in the coming weeks, but for now,mi wanted to re-introduce myself and my mission on this blog. I’m Lana, I’m 26, single, and a cook, married to the job. I am inspired by the seasonality of food, preserving, and recently, pickling. I am looking to enhance my world with food, and I can find inspiration anywhere. I have had the pleasure to work at some of the best restaurants around, and I have a thirst for knowledge about anything food. I am looking forward to sharing my experience this summer on this blog and new dishes I have created. Stay tuned for much more!
-L

Recipe: Easy Salmon Tartare

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Recently, I came into some possession of salmon belly trim (trim is usually pretty awesome and cheap ya know), and I hate wasted food. I decided to make something real quick, easy, and perfect for the (finally) warming weather. The diced trim was just mixed with whatever I had on hand at home- just simply dressed with some mustard, oil,capers, and fresh herbs. Since the fish is kept raw, it’s important to use very fresh fish. Also, tartare just sounds inherently fancy, so if you’re cooking for more than one- or even just one, as I made this for myself and still felt pretty fancy- it’s sure to impress.

Yields about a cup, which is a perfect size for a few as an app or a decent sized snack if you’re me (the aforementioned “just one”).

Ingredients
Salmon belly trim, very fresh, about 1/2 lb, trimmed of skin, pin bones picked, and diced into small pieces [$5]
Note: try and keep the salmon cold as you’re cutting, it makes it easier to cut!
Parsley, about 3 tbsp, rough chop
Lemon zest, 1 tbsp
Stone ground mustard 1 tbsp
Handful or so of capers, chopped,
Dill, handful, picked.
Olive oil, salt, pepper to taste.

Directions
Mix all ingredients except dill in a bowl to taste. The condiments should be added a little at a time, so the fish isn’t overpowered. Finish with more olive oil and dill. Serve with crackers and enjoy!

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Also, Game of Thrones starts tomorrow guys. National sibling day was yesterday. Coincidence?

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I think not.
-L