Author Archives: lanalagomarsini

4 Foods to get you Summer–Body ready without breaking the bank!

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Hey All,

In light of my previous submission by my friend Helen, I’ve been receiving lots of articles from writers wanting to share their tips on cooking, staying healthy, and eating in general. It’s been awesome and super fun to read things by others, and I want to support my fellow writers (and in this case, women as well).  Here’s a reader–submitted post by Sarah–Jane Paul on some superfoods that can help you get ready for summer (if it ever comes.) Enjoy!

-L

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4 Super Cheap Superfoods To Help You Lose Weight

A gym membership, exercise equipment, a diet program, and healthy foods – these are the items that make up a diet starter pack. However, each of these essential elements can end up costing you a fortune and make losing weight seem impossible. Fortunately, you do have other options when it comes to mealtime. With a little discipline and some wise choices at the grocery store, you can eat in and enjoy delicious, healthy and affordable foods. Check out these super cheap healthy foods to help you lose weight without your wallet shedding a few pounds in the process.

Brown Rice – $.07 per serving

A 12-year study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that women who ate more whole grains generally weighed less than women that did not. Brown rice is a cheap whole grain that can help you shed any unwanted weight. A half a cup of brown rice contains 1.7 grams of resistant starch, which increases metabolism and ultimately speeds up the process of burning fat. However, you should stick to half-a-cup per meal as brown rice isn’t necessarily low in calories.

Oatmeal – $.08 per serving

Oatmeal is one of those superfoods that has everything you need to stay fit and healthy. It is high in fiber, promotes heart health, and is extremely filling. Therefore, you should start your day off with a hearty bowl of oatmeal so that you’re staying full for hours. Be sure to avoid any instant oatmeal with added sugar, and instead use stevia, honey, or cinnamon to sweeten your breakfast the healthy way.

Beans – $.17 per serving

From garbanzo beans to black beans, these foods are cheap, low in calories, and high in protein. They can be cooked with multiple different spices and herbs to add some flavor and provide you variety in your diet for weeks. According to the American College of Nutrition, people that eat beans have 23 percent lower risk of gaining weight and a 22 percent reduced risk of becoming obese. You can cook beans into your rice or into a salad for a meal designed to help you lose weight on a budget.

Sweet Potatoes – $.50 per serving

Many diet programs tell you to stay away from potatoes, but if you do it right, you can enjoy one of your favorite foods and lose weight in the process. Sweet potatoes are high in nutrients, making your stomach fuller longer. At only 50 cents per potato, these vegetables are great for any budget diet. Be sure not to overload on the butter and sugar, and instead cook your sweet potatoes with coconut oil or cinnamon for a healthy alternative.

Losing weight doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Instead, you can scan the grocery store for these cheap superfoods so that you can shed a few pounds without breaking the bank.

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Crazy- Amazing Stuffed Squid

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As much as I love to write about cooking, I myself am a professional cook in my everyday life (which explains why I almost never have time to post).  One of the many amazing things about my line of work is the incredible people I have met along the way.  Don’t get me wrong, the industry is crazy, and has plenty of downsides– but more on that later.  Most cooks are just people who are so obsessed with cooking that they have dedicated their lives to learning more.

One of the best ways to learn is through others– and with that, I need to explain how this beautiful recipe fell into my lap.

This is Helen.

Helen!

Pictured here casually with celebrity chef Scott Conant

She’s just as lovely on the inside as she is on the outside, trust me.  She’s a cook that came to the game after already pursuing another career– and as a result, has amazing skills cooking many of the dishes she grew up with, and pays homage to her Vietnamese heritage. While she learns French cuisine along with the rest of us, she has an amazing trick up her sleeve.

Normally, Helen doesn’t do much to bring attention to her delicious recipes– just simple Instagram posts and casual dinner parties for fellow cooks and family.

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Like this beauty; aka “casual dinner”

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Or this gorgeous dish. She does this on her days off, people.

Her food should definitely be celebrated– the depth of flavor in her dishes and thoughtfulness to the detail is so necessary to honor a cuisine that is notoriously complex.  So, after at least a few hours of begging her while prepping at work, Helen agreed to share one of her recipes with me, and the world  suddenly seems like a happier place.

Ingredients

  • 20 small to medium cleaned squid with tentacles.

Pork Stuffing

  • 1/2 lb ground pork (80/20 fat is best, but any will work)
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 3 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 shallot (minced)
  • 1-2 tablespoon of oyster sauce
  • 3 stalks green onion (minced thinly)
  • 1/2 cup bean thread noodles (soaked in warm water for 10 min, drained then chopped)
  • 1/3 cup wood ear mushrooms (soaked in warm water for 10 min, drained and chopped

Instructions

  1. Combine the pork, fish sauce, ground pepper, white pepper, garlic, sugar, salt, shallot, green onions, bean thread noodles and wood ear mushrooms.
  2. Let the pork mixture marinate for at least 5 minutes.
  3. Stuff the calamari using a small spoon or a piping bag. Seal the calamari by threading a toothpick at the end.
  4. In a frying pan on medium high heat, add the stuffed calamari with 1 tablespoon of water. Cover the pan with a lid and steam the calamari for 10 minutes. This will evenly and perfectly cook both the pork and calamari without drying them out.
  5. Then, remove the lid, cook uncovered with tablespoon of oil and tablespoon of oyster sauce until golden brown.
  6. Slice to the desired thickness and serve.

 

Hopefully I’ll be able to pick the brains of more of my fellow chefs– and share it all here.

Thanks, Helen!

-L

 

 

Wintertime Sweet Potato Hash

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I don’t know about anybody else, but I hate the cold.

With a passion.

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This is me. In the snow. Unhappy.

So when the weekend rolls around its hard to get me out of my warm bed to head anywhere. A girl’s gotta eat, though, right? I’m not one to forgo yummy breakfasts and brunches just because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of putting on pants.  So I started making hash at home for myself and guests when they visit as a yummy and filling option to dining out in the wintertime (who even has going-out money after Christmas anyways?).

The best part about this hash is that its infinitely customizable. Ive traded the bacon for pork sausage and the rosemary for sage with just as tasty results. This dish is intended to be a “clean out the crisper” type dish, that can be added to, subtracted from, and made your own.  This goes from the cutting board to the plate in under an hour, all without having to put on pants, or worse, a coat.

 

Ingredients

3-4 Sweet Potatoes

1 spring Rosemary

1 Yellow onion

4 Strips Bacon

1 tbsp Maple Syrup

Eggs, for Serving

 

Directions

Preheat over to 400F.

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into cubes, and place into bowl. Chop Rosemary and garlic and add then toss with Olive Oil, add salt and pepper, and spread onto a sheetpan.  Roast, until tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

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Meanwhile, cut onion into thin slices.  Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.  Standing over the pan, I like to use kitchen shears to cut my strips of bacon into smaller strips directly over the pan.  Thanks mom for the trick!

Cook the bacon until it is almost all the way cooked and some fat has rendered into the pan, 3 minutes. Add the onion and cook with the bacon until the onion is soft and starts to carmelize, 7 minutes or so.  The bacon should be crispy but not burnt and the onions should be nice and soft and starting to sweeten.  Add the maple syrup and cook another minute or so, then turn off the heat.

Take the potatoes out of the oven and add to the onion bacon mixture in the pan, stirring to combine.

Cook your eggs, make your coffee, or take a quick smoke break.  When you are ready to serve, reheat all the ingredients together for about 3 minutes so the flavors can mix, stirring the whole while.

Serve and enjoy the day watching the amazingly–addictive and intense Netflix Drama The Keepers. This post isn’t sponsored or anything, I just saw it recently and thought it was amazing. Weekend plans made.

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Happy Weekend!

-L

 

Summertime Salsa Verde

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Salsa verdeSummer is finally here! It seems like this year has flown by, and I’m trying not to let the same thing happen to summertime.  Its beautiful outside, the sun is finally beating down on us, and there is produce everywhere.  Spring and summertime get me very excited to get into the kitchen and try new fun recipes and ideas, but the heat of summer makes me want to get in and out and enjoying my new food somewhere outside with a glass of rose in hand.  But I digress.

Last weekend I made a simple salsa verde I wanted to share, showcasing some of the ingredients of this current season: Lovage and green garlic.

For anyone who hasn’t come across either of these ingredients, never fear: They’re everywhere at farmers markets. Lovage is a green leaf with a flavor similar to celery, but sweeter and more substantial.  Green garlic is just garlic in its younger stages, still young and sweet.  It can also be called spring garlic.

This simple salsa is perfect for literally anything. I used it on steak, but it can also used it as a topper for chicken, seafood, and grilled veggies. You could also use it as a dressing for summer pasta salads. I recently used it as a topping for mozzarella cheese last weekend and it was magical.

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Lovage- Green Garlic Salsa Verde

2C Lovage leaves, picked

1 whole bulb and stem green garlic, chopped

1 tbsp white balsamic

zest of 1 lemon

3 C olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Add all ingredients except Olive oil to a blender and pulse.  Add Olive oil slowly in a thin stream until sauce becomes emulsified.  Season to taste and enjoy!

Happy Summer!

-L

 

 

 

Roasted Chicken Ramen Broth

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Roasted Chicken Ramen Broth

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Even though spring is (supposedly) around the corner, its been pretty frigid.  There was a blizzard of sorts here on the Northeast the other day.

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…of sorts.

What better way to warm up than a steaming bowl of soup? I was craving ramen the other day, and so I decided to try my hand at making a deep rich broth to pair with some noodles, Law and Order SVU reruns, and throw blankets.

I’ve never made ramen before, so I was a bit nervous. Everybody and their mother is making amazing ramen these days.  Would mine hold up?  I promise you, this is simple. Scary simple.  And full of flavor.  Two of my favorite things.

Ingredients:

I chicken, cut into 8 pieces

NOTE: you can buy this at the grocery store already cut up or have your butcher do it for you, or do it yourself.  Either way, we are looking for some chicken bones and trim here.

1 bunch scallions, trim reserved and whites/ greens thinly sliced for garnish

1 knob ginger, sliced (you can keep the skin on)

7 cloves garlic, smashed

3T sesame oil

soy sauce, mirin, and hoisin sauce- about 1/4 C each, to taste.

1 stalk lemongrass, bruised

4 C chicken stock

2 C water

Directions:

Trim the chicken and reserve trim meat and bones.  Whisk together soy sauce, mirin, and hoisin to taste and set on the side.

Heat sesame oil in a medium sized pot over medium heat and add chicken bones and trim, searing to get a deep brown, roasty color on all sides.  Add ginger, garlic, and scallion trim and sweat until fragrant, about a minute or two.  Add soy sauce mixture and scrape up any chicken bits that may have stuck to the bottom and cook until a bit syrupy.  Add chicken stock and water and lemongrass stalk and bring to a simmer and let reduce and flavors concentrate, about one hour.

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Strain and enjoy!

For some possible garnish, Here are some ideas:

Noodles; Lo-mein from the Asian section at the supermarket, ramen noodles for about 50 cents from any corner store, leftover cooked rice or microwave dumplings are great ideas also.

Veggies! The more the merrier, in my opinion.  I like pickled  any pickled veggie for the nice tang, radishes, arugula, kale, carrots, mushrooms.

Extra seasonings like Gochujang, Sriracha, scallions, and cilantro.

I love a poached egg as well, but who doesn’t?

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Seriously, who doesn’t?

Happy Slurping!

-L

 

 

Smile

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A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.
William Arthur Ward

I’m not much of a person for social media; it takes me forever to post anything on here, and I use this blog to express my passion.  I guess life can get really busy when you’re out there living it.

A few days ago, however, I started posting on my Instagram like a fiend.  I was posting photos of things that made me smile. Now, I thought I should explain why, because everyone goes through ups and downs in their lives and I am no different.

I recently left a few very challenging relationships in my life, including my job and personal relationships alike.  I had found myself in a place where I wasn’t answering my true calling in my heart, and was suffering myself and making those around me suffer as well. Being honest with myself was as fruitful as it was difficult; I have found a way to change my life and put it on a path where I feel like I will be happier.  But at a cost.

Losing close relationships with people I love, and accepting and understanding that not every person I meet is meant to stay is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in life– a lesson I am sure I will revisit– has been the hardest part of the transition.

My friends tell me that time heals all wounds, but a broken heart somehow always stays with you in some way– almost like a phantom limb.

But that is why I cook.  I love the tranquility that the actions give my mind, I love the inspiration I can achieve, and the endless learning of the art.  I also cook because cooking is love, and love is a beautiful thing; its selfless; you cook and give your heart on a plate, and sometimes don’t even know if the person you gave it to enjoys it, but you love it all the same. It’s uncompromising.

So, back to Instagram.  In the depths of my sadness, my insecurity on starting a new chapter in my life after leaving something comfortable, my despair over a close relationship having falling out, and my anguish of doubt, I decided I would do something about it.  I wanted a reminder of why I knew, even in my lowest moment, that I still had hope for myself and my future. I wanted to smile.

So I reminded myself of things that made me smile.  Photos I can always come back to and share with others of happy, uncompromising things.  Cooking. Family. Nature. It’s so easy to come back from sadness for me when I remind myself why I am here.  To give to others, to give love, and that made me smile.

I hope that my photos made people smile, but mostly, I hope that they made people ask themselves what made them smile.  What makes you smile? I hope you smile everyday. I hope that you can laugh, even.  This world can be harsh, but there is always something out there to make most smile– and I hope, in the lowest moments, that it’s remembered.

 

Adventures in Breadbaking

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Adventures in Breadbaking

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For the holidays, I have been given the best gift ever, and have a full week off from work. That’s right.  Monday to Sunday.  After years of going and going in this industry, a little time to rest is an amazing thing. Since I get bored easily, though, I decided to cook up a storm, try harder home cooking methods, and finally try tackling a project that has intimidated me as a cook: home sourdough bread baking. Using natural yeasts, of course.  I gave it my best efforts this week, and here are some things I learned:

For even more bread baking,  here is a great article from Bon Appetit on the subject.

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Tools of the trade

A good starter takes time and good ingredients:

One of my closest friends is a baker, so I am already at a huge advantage here.  Her pastries are divine, especially for someone that was trained classically savory (we studied together at culinary school).

“Always start your sour the night before, Lana, ” she pretty much yelled at me on Monday. “Don’t worry, we’ll make it together.”

Starters, or pre-ferments, are essential here.  A mix of flour and water that pulls yeast from the air, that lets the bread rise when baking.  A starter can be kept and maintained for years, as long as it is fed consistently.

She gave me the formula that I would be using this week for my starter:

12 oz water (by weight)

6 oz rye flour (organic)

6 oz bread flour

Apparently rye flour is very good at pulling yeast microbes from the air, even better than bread flour.  My friend found this information out by staging with one of the best bakers I know personally, so I think that’s an incredibly useful factoid.

She mixed it together and told me to add 6 oz each water and bread flour every 12 hours.  Further investigation on my part made me want to make this a full sour starter, so I adapted the recipe.

12 hours after the initial starter, I added 6 oz each of water and bread flour, then let the starter sit in a warm spot with a paper towel between the container and lid, for about 18 hours.

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Little bubbles of activity in the initial sour

On Day 3, I experimented using some of the sour (more on that later) for making bread. I took 8 oz each of the initial sour, bread flour, and water by weight, and mixed it together.  I tossed the rest.  At this point, it should smell like alcohol and fermentation; this is a good sign that the right bacteria has begun to eat the natural sugars in the flour.

On Day 4, feed your starter 8 oz each of water and flour, and let sit.

Day 5: your sour should be fully developed and fermenty and lovely.  Mix 8 oz of sour (discard the rest) with 16 oz of water and 24 oz of flour (rye or bread). Let sit one more day at room temperature, then you can add to the fridge; slow down process and feed 8 and 8 oz flour and water every three weeks to maintain.  You can use part of the starter at any point to make more sourdough at this point.

At this point I am still in the baby stages of my own starter, so I can only guess if I can maintain mine for some time.  Only time will tell. My friend warned me, “It’s like having a child!” and I’m inclined to take her seriously.

Now on to the main event: The Breadbaking process 

I woke up relatively early to a starter that had doubled in size, smelled like ferment and alcohol, and was bubbling happily.  So I was excited to try using it in making delicious, homemade bread.  Here’s how my day went:

I scaled down my recipe a bit, since I was only tying to make one boule (round loaf).

I added about 2 lb of bread flour to 1/2 lb of the pre-ferment, and about 1 lb 9 oz water. Mix with a stand mixer with the dough attachment for about 3 minutes on medium speed, then rest. Add salt and a tablespoon of water and mix until dough is smooth, about 2 minutes.  Then let rest at room temperature for about an hour.

After this point, it all gets very formulaic.  You want to slap your dough, and fold it in on itself so the gluten develops properly, and then let it rest for about an hour, and then do it again, but only letting the dough rest for 20 minutes the second time.

Basically, you cannot stress out the dough.  That’s the important thing here.

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I really hope he’s not panicking

Once the dough has rested for the second time, you want to pre shape and proof.  To make it easier on myself, I decided to do a boule shape; it’s large, round,  doesn’t require as much shaping practice as a skilled baker, and fits in a dutch oven beautifully.  Amazing.

One last thing I learned: Don’t have the tools? Get creative.

Who has a proofer in home nowadays (or ever)? Hardly any young cook, especially those that I know.  But the want to learn is out there, believe me.  So the only thing we can do is get creative.  Proofing bread is essential to the process; a humid environment is key to this.  So I like to shower with my food.  That’s right.  I set the bowl in the bathroom while showering; the steam released by my shower proofs the bread and helps it expand and become light and airy.

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Proofing near the shower–notice the toothpaste in the background

In that same vein, I don’t have a steamer in my traditional oven. But steaming bread is also essential to creating that light, airy texture. There are two ways to beat this: Use a stone, either fireplace or pizza, in a preheated oven.  When you add the bread, throw ice on the stone to release steam for the baking process. Open oven in last 15 minutes to create golden crust.

Also don’t forget to score your bread–helps release any pent-up steam.  I clearly need to practice my designs. Less is more.

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“artistic” slashes

Or you can use a dutch oven, covered, in the oven, to bake bread.  Uncover bread for last 15 minutes to create golden crust.

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Yay.

Final Results 

In the end, I had a pretty flat loaf.  I think I tripped up a bit with adding salt too early, and proofing a bit too soon as well.  It still tasted good, and my family was impressed with my efforts. I was too.  I t was a full day event, including resting times, proofing times, and my time spent studying up on the subject. So much was learned, most so that bread baking can elude even the best of us, so I shouldn’t feel bad that I at least produced something I can be proud of.

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…Maybe too proud of.

I also saved some starter, so ill be trying to make another loaf probably in the next couple of days, especially since I still have some time off and now I’m kinda (dough) hooked (sorry for the dad jokes, I can’t help myself sometimes). I’m definitely inspired to continue exploring this incredibly interesting niche in the cooking world.

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-L