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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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

 

 

What We Believe About Eating Well

“Healthy” food is having its day. It seems like there’s a new Sweetgreen, By Chloe or juice bar along those lines opening up each time you turn your head in New York City.  Bon Appetit has launched a new brand and site, Healthyish, to “cover wellness through the lens of food.” Eighteen of Amazon’s 20 top selling cookbooks have a health focus. The hashtag #cleaneating has over 29.5 million posts and counting on Instagram. People are connecting the dots between how they eat and how they feel.

On the one hand, this is awesome. Think about it, we literally are what we eat. Every strand of hair, follicle of skin and organ in our bodies is made up of the building blocks provided by what we eat. I don’t know whether that fact will ever stop fascinating me. The more people realize and celebrate this, the better.

On the other hand, some of what I see makes me uneasy. The more interest there is in healthy eating, the more commoditized it becomes. Many of those making a business around it, whether as an Instagram celebrity or as a food company, are not as informed as they purport. They claim that their way of eating, or their product offers the optimum diet. Conviction is easier to sell.

“It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.”

– Dr. David Katz, Founding Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

The truth is, there is not one way to eat well. Envision eating on a spectrum. On one end are total junk food diets. Think Doritos for breakfast, burger/fries for lunch and pizza for dinner. On the other end are more whole foods-based diets. Think tons of produce, lean proteins, whole grains and legumes, etc. There are endless ways to eat poorly and endless ways to eat well. If you are operating at the healthy end of the spectrum, there should be no anxiety around doing things “right” or “wrong”.

As a company, we strive to help our clients eat better no matter their choice of diet. We have clients who are vegan and animal-protein obsessed, gluten-free and grain-loving, dairy-averse and cheese-loving…you get the point. None are innately healthier than the other. It comes down to personal choice.

As a team, we enjoy all foods. Most of the time you’ll catch us crushing veggies but we never turn our noses up to a plate of the best fries or a good dessert. The former isn’t #cleaneating because it implies the latter is somehow dirty. It’s not! Its balanced. This isn’t “healthyish”. It’s healthy.

As this movement continues to boom, take heart in knowing that you’re probably already doing most things right. The devil is not in the details. And remember that while food is certainly a vehicle for health, it’s also about pleasure, culture and community. Enjoy it for all it has to offer!

With love always, xo Laura

How to Breakdown a Squash

What We Eat: Squash

Time to shake things up. Up to now, I haven’t shared a single post about cooking – recipes, tips, how-to’s, etc. – which is pretty crazy.  My love of being in the kitchen is what got me into the nutrition field in the first place. And it is a lot easier to make eating well a priority if the healthy food you are cooking and eating actually tastes good. I should be showing you how to do that! So from here on out, I’m going to be sharing a lot more of this type of stuff. It’s fun for me, and hopefully useful for you. Let me know if you’re into it.

First up, how to breakdown a squash. It struck me the other day that if people are limiting themselves to the pre-cut butternut squash at their local Whole Foods, they are missing out on lots of the delicious varietals that don’t come conveniently pre-disassembled. Kabocha, delicata, spaghetti…so many options, each of which have a slightly unique taste and texture. My favorite happen to be the types with edible skin (delicata, kabocha, acorn), because they are quicker to prepare (less peeling) but also because I love the contrast of the soft dense flesh and crisp, almost crunchy skin.

There is no right or wrong way to cut up a squash (or maybe there is according to Thomas Keller, but not for us mere mortals). Just keep in mind that if you want to keep all of your fingers intact, a sharp knife is a total necessity and creating a flat surface to stabilize the squash is always better than trying to cut through it while balancing the round surface on your cutting board.

How do you cut your squash? Whats your favorite variety and how do you prepare it?

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eYvCLvXRSI[/youtube]

A RD’s Meal Planning Checklist

What We Eat: Balanced Meal

I cook a lot. I mean, A LOT. I cook four+ meals weekly for a host of clients, dinner for my husband and me nightly (always making enough for the next day’s lunch, topped with greens, whatever it is becomes a salad) and typically at least one larger, more labor-intensive dinner weekly for a crowd of friends or family. Overtime I’ve developed a mental checklist to help me plan that I thought you might find useful. These principles make sense nutritionally, but even more important, following them makes my food taste better (I think) and makes cooking it easier (I know).

  • Balance. A quarter of what I make is protein, a quarter a grain or starch, and (at least) a half non-starchy vegetables and/or fruit. Some meals – think soups, pastas, etc. – may contain all three elements mixed together, but if I separated them out, my goal is for them to still contain foods in these proportions.
  • Color. This is important to me for several reasons. We all eat with our eyes first and having a variety of colors on the plate makes the meal look more appetizing. A food’s color (if it’s natural) is also usually indicative of what vitamins and minerals it contains. More color = largest variety of vitamins and minerals at each meal.
  • Texture. When I’m planning what to cook, I make sure that the recipes I choose aren’t all one-dimensional in the texture department. More texture = more interest. For instance, topping soup with homemade croutons offers a nice contrast to soup’s smooth texture, or adding toasted nuts to a salad offers a dense crunch to a the delicate crispness of greens.
  • Simplicity. Unless I have a lot of time on my hands, I never make more than one new recipe at a time. Whatever I make to accompany a new recipe is easy enough that I can go on autopilot making it.
  • Freshness. I plan to use more perishable foods within the first few days of going to the market, and less perishable foods later in the week. This principle dictates my weekly menus. For instance, if I go to the market on Monday, my menu might look like this…
    • Monday: Fish variation
    • Tuesday: Chicken variation
    • Wednesday: Soup/pasta/vegetarian variation
    • Thursday: Egg variation (frittata, shakshuka, omelet, etc.
  • A note on richness. I love fat – oils, cheeses, butter…all of it – BUT I use fat strategically. I employ high fat foods to enhance healthy vegetables and whole grain dishes versus on dishes that are already easy to eat on their own. I.e. Yes, of course white pasta with butter and parmesan is delicious, but opting to use a little parmesan on roasted broccoli gives me more nutritional bang for my caloric buck.

What principles help guide your meal planning and prep?

“Cooking is like exercise or spending time in nature or good conversation: The more you do it, the more you like it, the better you get at it, and the more you recognize that its rewards are far greater than its efforts and that even its efforts are rewards.” – Mark Bittman