Author Archives: lanalagomarsini

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

 

 

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.

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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