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Introducing “The Epicurean Dorm”

28 Aug

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When I started my Freshman year of college, balancing academics, extracurricular activities, and socializing while eating healthfully proved to be a considerable feat. Not only did I have less time to spend in the kitchen, but my limited access to fancy equipment and ingredients affected my choice of recipes. Discovering recipes that accommodated my new lifestyle was a learning process, but my love of cooking and homemade food encouraged me to make the commitment.

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After sharing my experiences with friends and peers, I found that many people faced a similar dilemma. It turns out that college students long to cook for themselves but find the prospect completely overwhelming. So, after months of writing, planning, and testing recipes, I am thrilled to announce “The Epicurean Dorm,” my new column in USC’s Daily Trojan newspaper. Every week, I will share simple, healthy, and affordable recipes to encourage college students to cook delicious food from scratch. While I created this column with college students in mind, any one with an interest in learning to cook may benefit.

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First up: an outstanding, hassle-free pasta with tomato sauce. Simply place all of the ingredients in one pan and stir them together over high heat for nine minutes. The end result is perfectly al dente spaghetti immersed in a luxurious and deeply flavorful sauce. Head over to Daily Trojan for the recipe and full story.

If you make any recipe from The Epicurean Dorm, tag your photos with #theepicureandorm and share them with me on Facebook or Instagram @maral_lavida.

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A College Student’s Guide to Farmers’ Markets

11 Oct

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In the first edition of “Weekly Snapshots,” I expressed joy upon discovering my university’s on-campus farmers’ market. I was so excited that I bought everything that caught my eye, not planning how I would utilize all of my new ingredients. I returned to my apartment with a motley of produce and artisan products, much of which spoiled because I had overestimated how much I could consume. Since that first visit, I have learned to approach the farmers’ market with a college student’s outlook. In this comprehensive guide, I provide students with advice and essential tips for navigating farmers’ markets on a budget.

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1. Choose produce wisely. The farmers’ market should be your one-stop shop for fresh produce. As a student, you must select items that will stay fresh throughout the week and easily transform into meals. I recommend sturdy fruits and vegetables such as apples, citrus, carrots, zucchini, and squash. Steer clear of produce that ripens quickly, such as stone fruits and tomatoes. As tempting as that $5, three-pack of ruby-red strawberries is, remember that it will become a mushy mess in less than two days.

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2. Sample with discretion. Everyone loves free stuff, and college students rarely turn down free food. Despite your urge to stick a toothpick into every sample, you should only taste items that you wish to purchase. You do not want to reach a state of palate overload–when all of the flavors have morphed together and you have forgotten which fruits reigned supreme.

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3. Get to know your vendors. Farmers and artisans are usually very friendly people who love to talk about their products. They care about what they sell, and will passionately answer your questions. If you develop relationships with particular vendors, many will provide “loyalty discounts” or throw in additional products for you to try. Farmers often reserve the best quality produce for their regular customers.

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4. Look for healthy snacks. Snacking defines college eating patterns (especially during exam periods). When you crave something to get through that midnight study session, nutritious snacks should always be on-hand. The farmers’ market offers a wide variety of delicious munchies that can energize students without making them crash. Some of my go-to options are fresh veggies dipped in hummus, mixed nuts, and dried fruits. Buy different snacks every week to avoid falling into a boring routine.

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5. Take advantage of prepared, ethnic foods. We all know how monotonous the cafeteria gets after just a few weeks of school. Ethnic food purveyors offer an escape from bland dining hall options, often for very low prices. Two authentic Salvadorian pupusas each the size of my hand, with a side of salsa and crema, only cost me $5. If I’m not in the mood to cook or don’t have time, I buy extra for dinner and simply reheat it in the microwave.

Weekly Snapshots

26 Sep

Stocking up on fruit at the Urban Radish in Downtown L.A.

Now that college is in full swing, I’m suddenly drowning in endless pages of reading, essay deadlines, and extracurricular activities. Cooking a homemade meal offers a much-needed break at the end of my day. I slip into comfy clothes, dance on my own to my favorite Shakira songs, and take my mind off everything I have to accomplish. I have a bunch of new recipes that I’m excited to share, but for now want to give you all a taste of my week courtesy of my iPhone.

A romantic dinner that I prepared for my roommate and me.

I had my first acai bowl at this amazing food truck parked next to my school.

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I literally would not survive in college without eggs. They are packed with protein, quick to prepare, and extremely versatile. I have a whole post dedicated to egg recipes coming soon.

I nearly jumped for joy upon discovering my school’s weekly on-campus farmers’ market. In addition to all the wonderful produce at my fingertips, ethnic foods like this Jamaican jerk chicken add excitement to my lunch routine.

Roasted eggplant and zuchinni from the farmers’ market–easy to store and reuse throughout the week.

College Cooking: Quick & Healthy Breakfast

1 Sep
Greek yogurt with fresh fruit (and me in the spoon!). 
I’m the person who thinks about what she’s going to have for breakfast while in bed the night before. I love taking in the smell of freshly brewed coffee and flipping pancakes while reading the front page of The New York Times. Now with classes starting everyday at 8 and 9:30 a.m., my college schedule does not accommodate such luxuries.

Rolled omelette made with veggies from dinner the night before. 
Though my mornings are considerably more rushed than they were during those idyllic summer days, I refuse to compromise when it comes to breakfast. These two simple and healthy recipes take minutes to prepare and make me feel energized and focused during lectures. 

The first–greek yogurt with sliced fresh fruit–will work with whatever produce you have on hand, no kitchen appliances required. For extra sweetness, mix in a bit of almond butter or jam.

The kitchen in my dorm–where all the magic happens. 

The second recipe–mixed veggie and goat cheese omelette–was inspired by an exquisite mushroom and spinach omelette I had at French Blue in St. Helena, CA. The omelette’s exterior was just set, encasing the veggies like a blanket, while the egg inside remained silky and almost molten. While my homemade version does not match the buttery goodness of French Blue’s, it received a seal of approval from my roommate, who declared that if all else fails, I could become a chef. 🙂 

For the filling, I recycled veggies from a stir-fry I made the night before. Transforming leftovers is a fundamental skill in college cooking, because you maximize the amount of time you spend in the kitchen and never waste precious produce.

Mixed Veggie and Goat Cheese Omelette  

Ingredients 
2 eggs 
Tblsp of milk
Handful of diced, sautéed vegetables of your choice (I used eggplant, red bell pepper, and zucchini) 
Crumbled goat cheese (or any other cheese you prefer)
Salt and pepper 

1. Spray a non-stick skillet with cooking spray and place over medium-low heat. Crack one whole egg into a bowl with one egg white, placing the yolk in a separate bowl. Add the milk to the yolk and combine with a fork. Salt and pepper both egg mixtures to taste. 
2. Pour the egg/egg white mixture into the skillet, spreading it into a circle, and cook for a few seconds until just set. Place the veggies in a line in the center of the circle and sprinkle crumbled goat cheese over them. Pour the egg yolk mixture over the veggies and fold the two sides of the omelette over the veggies. Press down lightly on the omelette with a spatula, cooking until the yolk center is soft but not liquidy. Remove the skillet from the heat and serve the omelette immediately.

These recipes are part of my ongoing quest to cook nutritious meals from scratch in my college dorm. I encourage readers’ comments and suggestions as I continue on this journey. For more information about the College Cooking series, click here.