Tag Archives: cooking

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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Everyday Eats: Lentil Salad with Peanut Dressing and Summer in NYC

18 Jul

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If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed a change in my posting patterns. Gone are the bright afternoon photos of homemade salads and freshly baked goods. Weekday posts are scarce, pictures of my usual Los Angeles hangouts replaced with those of decadent weekend brunches in Downtown Manhattan.

At the end of May, I moved from Los Angeles to New York City for a summer internship at Food & Wine Magazine. I cannot begin to explain all that has happened in the past two months–the lessons learned, friendships made, and delicious food eaten. What I can say now, though, is how much I miss cooking.

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I live with my cousin in a 300 square foot apartment in Midtown, our kitchenette equipped with nothing but a microwave and a miniature refrigerator. While eating out is a large part of the lifestyle here in New York, bars and restaurants bustling with people late into the night, it gets exhausting. I long for the leisurely hours spent flipping through cookbooks, baking cookies and cakes or tossing together fresh produce for simple summer salads. With its bounty of vibrant fruits and vegetables, summer is a much-anticipated season for cooks and bakers alike.

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Australian-inspired breakfast and coffee at Little Collins Café.

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Stellar brunch at Lafayette in NoHo. Try the chocolate-banana-coconut croissant.

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Lusting after sweet, dainty strawberries at the Union Square Farmers’ Market.

I made this salad on a lazy afternoon a few days before my departure. I was in the mood for a change and deviated from my usual drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice, creating a delicious Asian-inspired dressing using just a few pantry staples. A single ingredient, or in this case, dressing, can completely transform the flavors of a dish.

The creamy peanut dressing pairs well with hearty lentils and crisp arugula, but would be a welcome addition to shrimp spring rolls or a cold soba noodle salad. The recipe is more of a framework than a strict guideline, so feel free to improvise with whichever combination of lettuce, vegetables, and protein suits your fancy.

Recipe by Maral Tavitian

For the salad:

  • 1 1/2 cups arugula
  • 3/4 cup steamed green lentils, drained and cooled
  • 1/4 of an avocado, thinly sliced
  • 2 oz. medium-firm tofu, drained and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • Handful of toasted cashew pieces, for garnish
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the peanut dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted creamy peanut butter*
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or other neutral-tasting oil
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

* Use a good-quality peanut butter with a loose consistency. Look for brands that have only one ingredient (peanuts) and a layer of oil on top.

1. Place the lentils on top of the bed of arugula. Top with avocado slices, tofu, and cashew pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For the dressing, combine the peanut butter, vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and honey in a small bowl using a whisk or fork. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking to combine until the dressing reaches a smooth consistency. If the dressing seems too thick, add a bit more oil or water. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Extra dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.

Everyday Eats: Tomato-Chickpea Salad with Yogurt Dressing

20 May

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My cooking skills developed in the most unlikely of places: my college dorm. While most students associate the college diet with endless amounts of junk food, my eating habits changed for the better. Using limited ingredients, I learned to prepare healthy, satisfying, and delicious meals in under thirty minutes. I never worked with raw meat and fish, but discovered creative alternatives to incorporate protein into my diet.

Now that I am back home after completing my freshman year, I have expanded upon this cooking style that initially emerged out of necessity. Salads packed with legumes and veggies, rice bowls topped with a poached egg, and bean soups are just a few items on my list of “Everyday Eats.”

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Once I mastered a basic formula for these dishes (grains + produce + protein + healthy fats), I realized the endless opportunities for adaptation. I have decided to share my original recipes in this weekly column, with the hope that they inspire you to approach cooking from a different perspective. I offer possible variations for each recipe, showing how you can tweak according to personal tastes. An added bonus, almost all of these dishes are ideal for transporting to work, proving that a desk lunch can be something to look forward to.

Finally, in keeping with the everyday theme, I took these photos using my iPhone camera. Traditional photo shoots can be tedious, a process more suited for a lazy Sunday morning than a Tuesday afternoon lunch break. So, for the first installment of “Everyday Eats,” I give you a Mediterranean-inspired chickpea salad. Fresh tomatoes and basil provide bursts of bright flavor, complemented by smoky toasted pine nuts and a creamy yogurt dressing.

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Recipe by Maral Tavitian

For the salad:

  • 1 15 oz. can of cooked chickpeas
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 cup of cucumber slices (from about 2 medium cucumbers)
  • 1/2 avocado, cubed
  • 2 tblsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 cups arugula
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (not Greek, as it makes the dressing sour and thick)
  • 2 tsp of olive oil
  • 1 tblsp of lemon juice (from half a lemon)
  • 1 tblsp of basil ribbons
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Yields 2 servings.

1. Drain the chickpeas in a colander and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Mix together tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, chickpeas, and pine nuts in a medium  bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. To make the dressing, combine yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, basil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Taste the dressing and adjust seasoning accordingly. Pour the dressing over the chickpea mixture in tablespoons, mixing just until the chickpea mixture is coated but not drowning in dressing. I had some dressing left over.

2. To plate, place one cup of arugula on each plate. Top with chickpea salad.

Adaptations: For a more Middle Eastern flavor, add 1/2 tsp cumin to the chickpea mixture. For an extra burst of sweetness, replace pine nuts with golden raisins. For added richness or if you’re really hungry, top the completed salad with an egg (fried, poached, soft-boiled). For extra crispness and robustness, roast the chickpeas with olive oil in a 400 degree oven until golden brown.

Baked Cinnamon French Toast

16 Apr

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I featured this inexpensive and fool-proof recipe in my college student’s guide to hosting Easter brunch. The article was published in today’s issue of The Daily Trojan, and you can access it online here.

As far as brunch goes, French toast is both a quintessential menu item and a source of frustration. Brunch should be relaxed and carefree, the epitome of a decadent hybrid meal between breakfast and lunch. Why spend time leaning over the stove, flipping individual pieces of bread, while your guests drink mimosas in the backyard? That sounds like no fun to me.

Baked cinnamon French toast is a delicious one-pan solution to this problem. The recipe can be assembled in less than fifteen minutes using ingredients you probably already have on-hand. 

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Even the most inexperienced cook can execute this impressive dish. Simply toast the bread, coat each slice with butter and cinnamon-sugar, arrange them in one pan, and pour the custard over.

Layering the toasts creates a caramelized, golden exterior and a moist and creamy interior. Cut into thick slabs and topped with fresh berries and maple syrup, this French toast would be an outstanding recipe to serve to family and friends on Easter Sunday.

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Recipe courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 16 slices (from a 1-pound or 450 gram loaf) white sandwich bread
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups whole or 2% milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Yields 8-12 servings.

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a small dish. Line two large baking sheets with foil. Place the bread slices on the baking sheets in one layer. Spread each slice of bread with 1 teaspoon of butter, then sprinkle each slice with one teaspoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Toast the trays of bread in the oven until the bread is golden, and until the cinnamon-sugar makes a caramelized crunch on top, for about 7 to 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and let the toast cool slightly.

2. Generously butter a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cut two slices of the cinnamon toast in half horizontally. Arrange the baking dish so that the longer side is horizontal to you on the counter. Place the bottom half of a divided slice of cinnamon toast in the upper left-hand corner, cut side facing left. Arrange the first full slice of toast on top of it, so that the upper crust of the slice meets the left side of the pan. Arrange six more slices across the top of the pan, crusts in the same direction, overlapping each slightly. Finish with the top of a divided slice of toast. Repeat with the second row, toasts facing in the opposite direction, starting and finishing with your second divided slice of toast.

3. Whisk the milk, eggs, salt and vanilla in a medium bowl and pour evenly over the cinnamon toast in the baking dish. Let sit for 15 minutes (or overnight, if you’re preparing this ahead of time) so that the custard absorbs.

4. Before baking, sprinkle any leftover cinnamon-sugar over the French toast. Bake for 30 minutes, until puffed and golden and until no liquid seeps out of the toasts when you nudge them in the pan. Cut into squares and serve plain, or with a dollop of yogurt and fresh berries, or maple syrup.