Walking into Lisa's kitchen, it becomes instantly obvious that she is prepared at any moment, to cook any dish, from scratch! It's that well equipped. From dry ingredients, to appliances, to utensils, to the endless supply of herbs in the three foot wide plot of land wrapping the ground floor of her Harlem apartment building.
Lisa commandeered that small spit of earth as soon as she moved into the building. No one else paid it any attention, but she blanketed it in sunflowers and herbs. A welcome bucolic moment in a very urban landscape. In fact, just a couple of days ago, on a very brisk winter's day, Lisa sent me down to the garden for some mint. She advised me to stand on the sidewalk, stick my hand through the tall iron fence, and burrow through the ivy until I struck mint. There was more than enough for the final touches to her delicious lentil soup.
Next project was ice cream. Lisa is an ice cream maven. She makes it look very easy. I had the honor of documenting her create a fresh medjool date and almond variety. The tricky part, according to Lisa, is creating the custard (milk/cream/sugar/egg yolks) that is then mixed with the date/cream/milk/sugar mixture. "If you let it boil, you get scrambled eggs. If you don't boil it enough, it's too thin to create a rich final product." Her's was just right, as was evident by the luscious film that had formed on the back of the wooden mixing spoon.
Someday, Lisa hopes to be able to fully renovate her kitchen, knocking down the wall between it and the dining room, adding cabinets and a lot more counter space. Until then, she enjoys what she realizes is a nearly suburban scaled kitchen and cooks and cooks and cooks!!!
The Kitchn's Kitchen Questionnaire
What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
I wanted a Mediterranean feel, because that’s the cuisine that I enjoy cooking the most. I am inspired by whatever is fresh, local, and in season — and I love how that changes throughout the year. I have no single favorite food.
What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
Well, I love the ice cream maker. And with it, I’ve enjoyed creating lots of memorable ice creams and sorbets, with unique flavor combinations.
What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
New Year’s Eve 2008 — manchego cheese/membrillo paste squares; toasted nuts; caviar; Roasted Rack of Lamb with fresh mint; fettucine with fresh roasted chestnuts, parsley, and toasted pine nuts; broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic, olive oil, currants; and for dessert — chocolate cake with fresh date ice cream mixed with toasted almonds. And countless bottles of wine.
Biggest challenge in your kitchen:
Lack of counter space. I need more surface area.
Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
40 bottle wine refrigerator. But wait, that was a present, so maybe that doesn’t count. I spent $12 on a container of salt...
Wait, I own a pie carrier! Yes, indeed. It cost, like, $80, and was from a basket-weaving company in New Hampshire or something. I use it all of the time when I’m bringing a freshly baked pie or cake or quiche to someone. It looks like the basket Dorothy carried in the Wizard of Oz. When I’m on the subway, people ask me if Toto is inside.
Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen
A dishwasher (tall, dark and handsome). More counter-space. New cabinets. Range hood.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I use recipes for inspiration and then make stuff up as I go along. I often substitute different ingredients based on what I have available. Except baking — then I follow recipes religiously because I was never very good in chemistry and if you mess up a quantity or ingredient, things can turn out very bad.
If it’s green and leafy, I can always saute it in olive oil with a little garlic, red pepper flakes, a dried fruit (like currants or raisins), and nuts (pine nuts or walnuts). Mix with pasta and add freshly grated Parmigiano cheese. I could live on that for weeks.
Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Don’t overcook the vegetables. Don’t underestimate the value of adding salt.
What are you cooking this week?
Vegetarian stew with quinoa and chickpeas.
Home-made gluten-free pizza with mushrooms, tomato sauce and fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese.
Sauteed brussel sprouts with dates.
Morning glory muffins with dates.
Tossed Arugula and Spinach Salad with dates.
(A wonderful friend brought me back a pound of freshly harvested dates from California).
Lisa's Recipe for Compost Vegetable Stock
Save the cuttings, stems, leaves, outer skin, stalks and any other parts of fresh vegetables that you might otherwise discard. Do not use old food that you put in the compost bin because it is no longer edible. Freeze this collection of goodies until you are ready to make your stock.
Heat a deep pot over a medium high flame. Add a 1/4 cup olive oil. Add veggie scraps. Saute for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add a lot of water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 45 minutes. If there aren't enough onion skins amidst your scraps, add a new onion, roughly chopped.
Strain. Store in quart containers or, for smaller portions, fill an ice cube tray full of stock. Freeze.
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(Images: Jill Slater)