Finding Inspiration for the Kitchen

A meal from LA’s Gjusta

Every week we come up with unique menus for our entire client roster. With two art studios and over ten families, each of which enjoy anywhere from two to five meals prepared by us weekly, that’s a lot of unique dishes to dream up.

So, we’re constantly on the lookout for inspiration. I thought I’d share a few favorite places to find it:

  • Travel
    • Like the rest of the What We Eat gals, I plan entire vacations around food. I’ve traveled to Copenhagen for Noma, Napa for French Laundry and (multiple times) to LA for Gjusta and Gjelina. I’m just as excited by less formal places where I get to see how locals more routinely dine. Finally, I drag my husband to every farmer’s market I can find to taste and learn about new ingredients. I take copious notes on my iphone “Notes” app about all of it.
A farmers market in Turin, Italy
Outside Copenhagen’s Noma
  • Eating out
    • Every opportunity to dine out is an opportunity for inspiration. I order as much as I and my dining partners can stomach, take notes on flavor combinations that excite me and take pictures for plating ideas. While I probably go a little overboard in this department, I suggest ordering something a little outside of your comfort zone. Try to discern the ingredients used and how they might have gone about making it. Obviously this is hard for something like pâté, but I’ve recreated many a restaurant salad, etc. with great success. And because you can tweak things to your preferences at home, you might just like your version even more. I’m also a big collector of restaurant menus. Even though they usually just have a few ingredients listed, if I take notes on them they’re like shorthand recipes.
Documenting a creative dish at Noma

Next time you feel like you’re in a rut, eat out, peruse the internet, or hey, take a vacation! Keep a little notebook handy to jot down dishes, ingredients and recipes that excite you so you have a standing list to refer back to later on.

Happy cooking!

With love, Laura

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Silver Linings and Mindful Eating

A few weeks back I missed a flight home after a weekend well spent at my alma mater in Boulder, Colorado. I made the conscious decision to revive my long lost laid-back identity and set my New York City chaotic mind aside. I got so wrapped up in my go-with-the flow itinerary that I thought my flight was some arbitrary time like 6pm when it was actually at 12:25pm and I didn’t even stop to double check. So, when I finally figured it out in an awkward, tearful phone call with a JetBlue customer service representative I got that feeling like my throat was going to close up and my emotions were a rapid tornado of frustration, shame and dread. Those long Colorado days spent worshiping the sun and dipping my toes in creeks sent down the drain. Not to mention the major emotional melt-down that occurred in my boyfriend, Peter’s, rental car, his best friend in the back seat and my lack of composure totally hijacking what should have been an enthusiastic sendoff to their pending backpacking trip, Peter’s, parting words “this is why you should always check in to your flight 24 hours before” taunting my self-esteem. I was stranded in Colorado with the thought of cooking straight after a three-hour red-eye weighing heavily. In situations such as this I usually find myself eating a gas station snickers bar or binge watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians on my phone, but I couldn’t let this annoying miscalculation send me into an even deeper spiral of shame. Instead, I would hold onto my final hours in Colorado and meditate like any ex-boulderite would do.

Yes, I’m going to talk about meditation. Flashback to freshman year of college at the University of Colorado when I got college credit for two meditation classes held in my dorm. I know what you’re thinking, only in Boulder. At first, I must admit, I was most excited about getting credit for a class centered around something not far from napping (sleep is my favorite part of my day apart from food). But after a few classes I was amazed by how fascinated and inspired the course made me. One of the fundamental practices in meditation is mindfulness. This is ultimately what my Colorado retreat was lacking, but how fitting was it to be in Colorado and have this realization, some might even call it destiny…

I wiped my tears, took lots of loud breaths and found an impromptu free yoga class around the corner. And then as if Gandhi himself was reincarnated into my yoga instructor, she starts on a monologue about losing her wedding ring. We all know this feeling and at this moment in my life so many things feel uncertain and overwhelming that it’s easy to lose sight of the day to day. It’s especially true living in a gigantic city with so many jobs to do, errands to run, groceries to carry, people to see, places to eat that just stopping for a second to reflect feels like an inconvenience. So, if there was any way to reflect (meditate) but not waste any valuable time, mindfulness is the answer! And if you were wondering how this all tied into food, here it is: mindful eating is the best way to do this.

I couldn’t believe I ever let this practice go. So, after my yoga class I wandered to a bar down the street called Linger, an aptly named bar for my current situation, to consciously eat alone.

For people that love to eat, mindful eating is simple but you have to put your phone away, shut your computer, turn off your T.V. and sit down. It’s about looking at your food, tasting each ingredient and thinking about how you’re feeding your body in that moment. It sounds gushy, but it’s truly the easiest way to decompress and as my mediation teacher would say, south your soul. AND studies have actually proven that people who exercise mindful eating actually tend to eat less. There I was eating Pad Thai, completely at ease, thinking about nothing more than the breeze trickling into an open bar, the taste of my ice-cold draft beer and the tangy combination of lime and cilantro marinating on my tongue.

Signed your hippie-dippy foodie, Charlotte <3

Get to Know It: Smoked Paprika

Corn on the cob with paprika

I can’t think of a single smoky-flavored food I don’t love. Smoked salmon and trout, all manner of BBQ, bacon…but living in Brooklyn with outdoor cooking prohibited and a sensitive fire alarm makes achieving that flavor with fire nearly impossible. Enter: smoked paprika.

I first added this spice into my culinary repertoire about five years ago when making David Tanis’ Pimenton Roast Chicken with Crispy Potatoes. To be honest, before this recipe I shied away from most dishes with paprika. I’m not sure why exactly. Probably because the only paprika I tasted growing up was a generic supermarket brand that had been sitting in the back of my parents’ spice drawer for years. I thought paprika was a spice that added a red hue but not much else to a dish. Boy, was I wrong.

Tanis’ crisp-skinned roast chicken had a depth of flavor I didn’t know was possible without open-fire cooking. It was garlicky, a little bit spicy and with a deep smoky aroma. With the success of this recipe, smoked paprika quickly inherited valuable real estate in my spice rack.

fish tacos with toppings
This spice is made most often in Spain where ripe red chile peppers are dried slowly over smoldering oak for up to two weeks before being ground into the powder we find on market shelves. Other aliases include pimenton, smoked pimenton, and Spanish paprika. The second you take a whiff, you’ll know you have the right spice. You can also find it at varying levels of heat, from sweet (dulce) to spicy (picante). I like all of them so that’s just a matter of personal preference.

cauliflower with paprika

Below are several favorite ways to use smoked paprika in cooking. This is a spice you can be quite heavy handed with, so don’t be shy. Give one or two of them a try and I promise you’ll be hooked.

On vegetables – sprinkle over roasted or grilled corn, cauliflower, sweet potatoes,

In vinaigrettes – add a pinch or two to a mix 50/50 mix of lime/olive oil (add a touch of honey or agave too, and of course salt and pepper to taste)

On proteins – sprinkle over fried eggs, season a mild white fish like halibut with it for fish tacos (use cumin too), use it on any poultry, or even use it as your secret ingredient in burgers

On pepitas – when toasted pumpkin seeds on the stovetop, add a little olive oil, salt, and smoked paprika for the last few minutes of toasting

On legumes – fry chickpeas in olive oil on the stovetop for about 10-15 minutes until crispy, adding a generous pinch of smoked paprika for the last few minutes and then finishing the whole thing with a squeeze of lime juice

With love always, Laura

 

 

Celebrating Summer Produce This 4th of July

Nothing says great 4th of July party like a busy grill, packed to maximum capacity with juicy burgers, hot dogs and their ever-so-slightly burnt accompanying buns.

It’s festive, it’s fun and it’s worth it. It’s red meat, gluten, dairy and beer. It’s a whole bunch of condiments made who knows when, containing who knows what. And you know what? That’s okay! It’s important to make room for moments like these.

But just because there’s red meat and gluten on your plate doesn’t mean there’s not room for veggies, too. A healthy lifestyle is just that; a lifestyle. It’s sustainable, balanced living.

Besides, it’s summer! The beginning of the season marks an exciting turning point in our food lives, and it’s not only because of cold beers and burgers.

Suddenly, we’re going to the local green market and filling our totes to the brim with corn, arugula and strawberries, munching as we go. Packing picnics consisting of nothing but heirloom tomatoes, butter and bread, and loving every bite. Enjoying perfectly ripe and juicy stone fruit at pretty much every moment possible.

In other words, we’re beginning to enjoy a whole lot of healthy, raw fruits and vegetables. Our gravitational pull towards the stovetop is less strong; we crave chilled soups, made in the Vitamix and served straight out the refrigerator. We become reacquainted with big salads full of shaved veggies and herbs.

When we do cook, we try to do it outdoors, at night and with a cold glass of rose in hand. And the shopping list is often minimal. A good selection of vegetables and a few cuts of meat is all we need to entertain our palettes, as well as those of our friends.

So, this 4th of July, let’s not forget how lucky we are to be enjoying this new crop of ingredients. There’s so much to work with, and the list of possibilities extends far beyond holiday classics like corn on the cob, potato salads and slaws.

If you’re going to a party or throwing one of your own, why not try to add some umph to the selection of vegetable sides and salads? It doesn’t need to overshadow the other fun stuff, but we think it deserves some love, too!

Not sure what to make? We’ve left you with some loose inspiration below.

Happy cooking!

xo, Emily

Corn and Nectarine Salad

Toss grilled corn with fresh nectarines, some torn basil and a bit of goat or Cojita cheese. I think this would be delicious tossed with lime juice and olive oil, but Bon Appetit makes it with a toasted spiced vinaigrette. I have to admit, it looks absolutely delicious!

Grilled Asparagus

Take grilled asparagus one step further by tossing it with some olive oil, lemon juice and minced garlic. And we doubt anyone would complain if you topped it with some shaved parmesan, too.

Tomato and Peach Salad

Toss heirloom and cherry tomatoes with peaches. Add a bit of torn basil and thinly sliced red onion into the mix, and dress well with olive oil and sherry vinegar. Optionally, top with crumbled feta, torn mozzarella or goat cheese.

Cold Pasta Salad with Edible Flowers, Veggies and Herbs

Make summer produce the star of your pasta salad by adding lots of fresh, raw veggies, herbs and edible flowers into the mix. Almost anything goes here! My mom used to make this with tortellini, bell peppers of every color, whatever herbs she was growing (usually tons of basil, parsley and chives) and nasturtiums. It was totally simple, but always a big hit! The key here is a heavy hand with the produce. And don’t forget to dress well with a good glug of olive oil and some red wine vinegar.

And don’t miss our Grilled Corn, Quinoa and Halloumi Salad (Pictured Above)

Crispy Tofu Spring Rolls for Summer!

We love getting feedback from all our clients but, I must admit, I get most excited when it comes from our clients’ kids. I love hearing when their kids devoured our roasted salmon or actually finished their plate of veggies. So this month’s video is for the kiddos. There’s one thing that I’m pretty sure most parents can agree on and that’s how frustrating it can be to feed kids. I know from my own experience as a nanny that kids are very strong-willed when it comes to food and if they don’t want to eat it, they will find any excuse not to (feeding their peas to the dog when you’re not looking, chucking their apple slices in a bush on the way to school, etc.).

 

A big part of our job as private chefs involves accommodating these tenacious mini-clients. At WWE, we encourage our clients to use their imaginations and play with their food, especially the littles. We’re always trying to come up with kid-friendly, hands-on snacks that we can add to the rotation. These spring rolls are among our most successful. They also make for a great afterschool activity. Although it’s technically no longer spring, I’m pretty confident that these spring rolls are actually the perfect summer snack. The tangy peanut sauce is a classic and pairs perfectly with the delicate flavors wrapped up in these rolls. Keep these rice papers on hand and fill them with whatever’s lingering in your fridge or whatever veggies your kids are into.

This video also serves double duty by demonstrating another one of our client faves, kids and grownups alike: crispy pan-fried tofu.

For crispy pan-fried tofu:

  • I like to use extra firm tofu because it’s less likely to fall apart when you’re slicing or break mid-flip in the pan.
  • Drain as much of the tofu liquid as possible by placing the tofu between absorbent paper towels or a clean dishcloth and weigh it downs with anything you have laying around that’s kind of heavy (an extra cast-iron or heavy plate work great). The dryer the tofu, the better the crunch.
  • Slice the tofu as thinly as possible in one fluid stroke. Avoid sawing at the tofu as it tends to crumble if you fuss with it too much.
  • Next heat a skillet on high with a nice layer of high-heat oil (grape seed oil, canola oil, safflower oil…) to avoid too much smoke.
  • Season both sides of each slice of tofu generously with salt and pepper.
  • Working in batches, sear the tofu until a golden crust forms. They should be fairly stiff without much wiggle. This can be difficult to judge. For me, if it feels slimy and slippery when I’m trying to flip it, it’s not ready.
  • Once they’re crispy, drain the excess oil by placing the tofu on a plate covered in paper towel.
  • Serve in a salad, grain bowl, sesame noodle dish or spring roll. You name it.

Spring roll fillings:

  • Tofu
  • Avocado
  • Julienned or grated carrots
  • Julienned or thinly sliced cucumber
  • Julienned or thinly sliced radish
  • Thinly sliced mango
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • These are just what we had on hand but you can use anything as long as it’s small or thin enough to fit neatly inside.

Spring roll wrappers:

  • You can find these at most health foods stores or Asian food markets.
  • Fill a shallow bowl (we used a pie dish) with cold water.
  • Dip each sheet separately into the water and let sit for 1-2 minutes until the wrapper is pliable.
  • Lay the wrapper flat on a cutting board or clean work surface and allow your little ones to assemble it themselves.
  • Roll it up like you would a burrito. The wrappers are pretty tough so don’t be shy!
  • Or forgot the rice paper wrapper all together and use a leafy green instead.

For dipping sauce:

  • We love a peanut sauce with 1/2 cup peanut butter lots of fresh grated ginger, garlic, a pinch of chili flakes, 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil, 2 Tbs. rice wine vinegar and 1/2 cup water.
  • You may also like a sweet and sour sauce or sweet mustard sauce.
  • Or just plain soy sauce!

xoxo,

Charlotte

 

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