big news

Hello, internet foodie pals.

Some big news for you today. Here’s the note I wrote to my clients about it, then let’s talk about what it means for this little blog, OK?

I write to you today with some big news. After nine years of running the meal delivery service, I’ve made the sad decision to shut the business down in 2011. I’ve so enjoyed the cooking for you all these years, but these days running two businesses is getting to be just too much, and something has to give. So, I’ll be focusing on chocolates full time starting in January.

I feel sorry to stop cooking for such amazing clients–you’re all so incredibly wonderful, it’s been an honor making healthy food for you and your families. Some of you have been eating my inventions (and occasional flops) for 6+ years, and that kind of loyalty–the fact that I’ve never put in one ad for the meal delivery and that over 60% of my business came from word-of-mouth advertising—is so heartening. However, it’s time to focus on new challenges.

So there we are. It’s all very exciting—sad, exhilarating, and liberating, all at once. The meal delivery service was my baby for so many years—I started it with negative capital (lots of debt, in fact) and it not only taught me to cook (I went to cooking school, but in truth I’m much better at teaching myself, so the first three or so years were serious on-the-job training—I still blush to think about some of the wrecks I sent off every week. At one point I had so few containers that when I ran out one time I gave a client an entree in a reused plastic take out dessert container shaped for a pie slice.), it gave me financial stability, confidence, endless challenges, discipline, hundreds of 12-15-hour work days, and, if I do say so myself, an astonishing amount of business acumen for a former English and Women’s Studies major who at one point couldn’t tell you the difference between gross and net income to save her life.

I also had the honor of meeting some incredibly wonderful, and, sometimes, wonderfully bizarre clients. I haven’t done the deliveries myself for about five years, but in the early years when I’d stay up all night cooking then make my shaky way into NYC for those hellish 20 deliveries* I got to know most of my clients. Most of them were true sweethearts (and in truth I kicked them off the schedule if they were not a good fit for the service–I almost always had a waiting list for the meals. It was just as important for me to enjoy cooking for someone as it was for them to enjoy my cooking.), but there were a fair amount of straight-up nuts mixed in too—the woman who had only nail polish in her refrigerator, the guy who told me he never refrigerated the meals (!!!!), the longtime client who was perennially two weeks behind with the meals (no preservatives! I shudder to think!). The supermodel, the political wonk with his own show on CNN, the actress, the famous painter, the hundreds of strivers and stressed professionals.

Oh, and all the trends: first the Atkins, then the wheat-free, then the gluten-free, and the Macro peeps, and the raw freaks, the beet haters, Brussels sprouts avoiders, and the fat phobic. I’ve really developed my e-mail diplomacy skills over these years, and I’ve turned almost all the beet and Brussels haters into devout fans.

I have dinner party stories for the rest of my life, that’s for sure. But what I loved the most were my core crew—those clients who truly understood and appreciated the quirky way I cook. It’s not for everyone, but it was for them, and for that I’m profoundly grateful.

This weird little made-up job carried me through my twenties, and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it. After a nervous breakdown engendered by witnessing the events of September 11, 2001 at way too close range, I followed my sweetheart on tour in Europe (he tours with indie rock bands as a sound engineer and tour manager) and thought about what I wanted from my fragile little life. I wanted to follow my own rules, be my own boss, and make people happy with my cooking. When I got home I designed a flier and a website, and started with four clients. With no capital, even less business sense, and, to be honest, very little cooking skills, things went slowly. But in time I was able to quit my part-time job working at my old cooking school, and the glorious freedom of working for myself has never diminished. I became a much better cook, too!

Anyway, enough sappy rambling.

This change doesn’t mean I’ll be going away from this blog–far from it. Though I won’t have weekly menu photos, I will be be doing lots and lots of chocolate testing which I will be sharing, and, after nine years of cooking in quantity, I’m really excited to cook for my my sweetheart and myself every night (and since 2011 is going to be a big touring year for him I’ll probably be eating alone a lot too)–I’m planning on posting all about the little excitements of cooking for two (or one) after so many years of cooking for 20. We rarely ate anything except what I cooked for my clients, so this is a whole new world for me. If anything I’m sure I’ll be posting here more, since it will feel less like work and more like foodie fun.

(Also, I still have a lot of meal delivery photo posting to catch up on in the next few weeks!)

Yours,

Lagusta

*Driving through Times Square on no sleep? Not the best idea in the world. The BQE? Downright suicidal. I used to take naps on the Thruway rest stops on the way home–one time I woke up to find a grizzled old trucker staring at me drooling from about one foot away. “Howdy,” he said, politely. That’s when I decided I needed a delivery person (actually—I think I decided that the day I got **three** parking tickets in a row, one for pulling over to ask a cop a question which I prefaced with “Can I stop here to ask you something really quick? I know it’s a bus stop but I am so incredibly lost.” She very kindly gave me directions to get me out of the tangle of Queens I was in, then casually wrote me a ticket. “You can’t park in a bus lane, honey, what were you thinking?” I wasn’t parked, I was stopped for 30 seconds!), and I’ve been blessed with amazing ones ever since. Except for the one very easy-going and perhaps overly relaxed pal of mine, who returned from his first day with shaky hands and that look in his eyes of one who has never truly looked Manhattan traffic in the eye before. “I…might have….underestimated how…ah…stressful that was going to be.” He said. You and me both, honey. I learned after that to only hire women delivery people, and they’ve never failed me.

the last week of the year

Hello everyone!

It’s the last cooking week of the year! I’m just going to toss up the menu then tell you that I have roughly 1,000,000,000 foodie photos to catch you up on, so keep checking this space in the weeks ahead, after the December chocolate madness calms down a bit. Oh, speaking of chocolate, here’s a glimpse into the LL kitchen and the madness of my own mind: a video of me pulling sugar! Good times.

Making pumpkin seed oil truffles!

On to the savories!

  • Broiled tofu pockets stuffed with greens and marinated with pumpkin seed oil, garlic, ginger, and cilantro: how can I explain this meal if you’ve never had it? It sounds so weird. I make it for the meal delivery four times a year, each season, and people can’t get enough of it. Tofu + greens  + deep dark roasted pumpkin seed oil + mountains of garlic and ginger + cilantro + shoyu??? So weird! But one of my clients once summed it up perfectly: “I can’t explain why I like that meal so much…it feels like home to me, even though my family has never cooked with any of those flavors.” Yes, that’s exactly it. It’s weirdly homey. All I know is that I don’t really like tofu yet I could eat this meal pretty much every day of my life.
  • Rice noodles in pumpkin seed-oil sauce: the pumpkin seed oil sauce is so addictive, we make it work twice this week. You will not get tired of it, promise.
  • Herbed artisanal calzones with pesto: homemade calzones! A use for the pizza oven in the kitchen which mostly just sits there, all black and huge and powerful, eavesdropping on all our conversations. These freeze well, if you want to hoard a little LL for the coming month.
  • Red pepper tofu salad with caramelized onions, garlic chives, and roasted garlic
  • Middle eastern lentils and rice with caramelized onions and 2 kinds of paprika: mujaddara! The middle eastern classic and another super homey food, packed with sweet, deeply caramelized onions and lots of beautiful paprika: homegrown local organic paprika (made from paprika peppers from Ray Bradley over at Bradley Farm), sweet smoked paprika, and a bit of spicy smoked paprika too.
  • Brussels sprouts and beets braised with dijon mustard and walnuts: why is this dish so good? It’s one of those things you can’t stop eating. Brussels sprouts with beets and walnuts and mustard and miles and miles of winter yum.
  • Soup: Spicy peanut soup with mustard greens
  • Salad dressing: Raspberry-rosewater vinaigrette: with homemade raspberry vinaigrette!

upcoming meals, November 30 delivery

It seems almost unbelievable, but there really are only two more weeks of Lagusta’s Lusciousness until we go on our annual sabbatical! I’ll be off to my sweetheart’s father’s house on an island in the middle of the Pacific (I know, I know, I am the luckiest girl in the world) where I’ll spend a few weeks getting caught up on paperwork (hello, taxes!) and projects–and of course swimming in the clear blue sea, hiking up to the sky, and reading endless novels. Sous chef Stephanie will be off on her Culinary Institute of America externship to a very lucky restaurant for a few months, and sous chef Maresa will be working on a foodie business idea of her own I’m excited to announce to you soon!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We still have two weeks of glorious meals. Here’s what’s on the menu for this week:

  • Korean barbecued tempeh with bok choy and rice noodles:  This dish is slightly fiery, and has lush, clean Korean flavors: miso, chilies, and nice cooling rice noodles to calm everything down.
  • Sautéed butternut squash with garlic, ginger, and warm spices
  • Feijoada (Brazilian rice and beans) with seasonal vegetables: Pronounced feh-jh-wada, this traditionally super-duper meaty dish is the national dish of Brazil. It’s filled with spices, orange zest, rice and beans, tomatoes, and more.
  • Garlicky kale
  • Smoked refried beans with salsa fresca: once one of my clients said my frijoles refritos were “the best thing I’ve ever put on a spoon.” It’s true, they are quite lovely, indeed. I always explain to everyone that “refried” doesn’t mean “cooked with tons and tons of oil,” (though that’s often the case, sigh), but “well-cooked.”
  • Spanish rice: a laid-back foil to the luxurious beans.
  • Soup: Shiitake soup with soba noodles and carrot stars: just the thing if you’re under the weather!
  • Salad dressing: ginger maple lime dressing

special meals for a special week: upcoming meals, November 23 delivery

Cuties Erin & Sam from Second Wind CSA, who grew many tasty vegetables for this harvest feast.

  • Delicata squash with chestnut stuffing: redolent of roasted chestnuts, caramelized vegetables, herbs, and more.
  • Apple, dried cherry, and walnut salad with creamy maple dressing and local mesclun
  • Phyllo triangles stuffed with tempeh and fall vegetables  with miso-beer gravy: this gravy works perfectly on the squash as well, and the triangles freeze beautifully in case you have somewhat of an overflow refrigerator situation this week.
  • Caesar salad with sourdough croutons, nori, and romaine lettuce
  • Cabbage rolls stuffed with sauerkraut, apples, and rye bread with dill sauce: in truth, my favorite of this week’s meals. Tart and sweet and rich, this just tastes like a special day to me. If only I could insert the smell of the rye bread I’m making (I’m making it today so it can get a bit stale in order to soak up the flavors of the other cabbage roll ingredients better) into this post–oh man. Caraway and tang and fermentation and warm warm warm.
  • Squash salad with red cabbage and tempeh bacon: a strangely addicting salad, lovely warm or cold or room temperature. Squash cooked in carrot juice with sauteed cabbage—I know, it sounds really weird. But it’s beautiful and great.
  • Soup: Bourbon, caramelized onion, and sweet potato soup: a velvety smooth soup.
  • Salad dressing: Pesto vinaigrette

Upcoming meals, November 9 delivery

The slogan of those goji berries (used in last week’s XO sauce dish) just knocks me out. I like to think about gojis winning some giant popularity contest of all the millions of berries in the Himalayas.

  • Artichoke, olive, and preserved lemon tagine with chermoula and harissa sauces: I know I say this all the time, but seriously, this is one of the tastiest meals ever. It’s a bit of a tzimmes (a big deal): it’s a nice bright Moroccan stew plus a light bright pesto-like charmoula sauce plus a laboriously homemade spicy (and bright!) harissa sauce—but it’s so, so worth it. I’m so in love with this harissa that I make ten cups of it at a time and freeze it in small containers to use as a hot sauce for all my personal meals for the next four months, until this dish comes on the menu again.
  • Tzimmes (glazed carrot coins) with ginger, lemon, and cinnamon: unlike the tagine, this tzimmes is not much of a tzimmes. It’s a sweet and simple side dish that’s easy to eat and easy to love: carrot coins sauteed until lightly cooked and lightly glazed, with paper thin lemon slices cutting the slight sweetness.
  • Gourmet sloppy joes with homemade focaccia: from-scratch super fancy sloppy joes (with lots of cleverly disguised greens cooked in), plus homemade bread!
  • Heirloom lettuces and roasted carrots with pink peppercorn-garlic-tarragon ranch dressing: I think I have a hot lead on a special salad mix from farmer Pete for this salad…exciting!
  • Wide rice noodles with Southeast Asian pesto, smoked tofu, and fresh broccoli and red peppers: a Southeast Asian pesto meal–YES.
  • Grapefruit and beet salad: Does this sound like a weird combination? Honestly, I’ve been making this salad for the past ten years, so I no longer see it. All I see is a perfect match: sweet-tart grapefruit to balance earthy-sweet beets, plus a wine vinaigrette and thyme. Hello, lunchtime!
  • Soup: Portuguese kale and potato soup: Honest, earthy, deep, stick-to-your-ribs soup.
  • Salad dressing: Sesame-shiitake dressing: which I personally could eat with soba noodles all day long.

Upcoming meals, November 2 delivery

Where the sage in the turnip dish comes from!

The theme this week could be home-style dinners from around the world. Well, the edamame dish is a little fancy, but not too much.

  • Cuban coconut rice and black beans with plantains: with sweet peppers, this dish is one of the tastiest variations on rice and beans I’ve ever seen.
  • Sofrito collard greens: finely chopped, slow-cooked greens with a tasty homemade seasoning base filled with deep umami flavors.
  • Colcannon: an Irish dish with potatoes, kale, carrots, and rutabaga, with Brooklyn stout beer gravy.
  • Cider-glazed turnips and apples with sage and tempeh “bacon”
  • Shanghai-style edamame with five spice tofu, goji berries, and soba noodles: this dish contains XO sauce, which is sometimes called “caviar of the Orient.” It’s a recent Chinese invention served in trendy urban Chinese restaurants. Although it contains no brandy, its name inexplicably pays homage to classy XO brandy. I don’t quite understand this sauce, but I like eating it, and I guess that’s all that really matters. XO sauce usually contains dried shrimp and scallops – in my version dried porcini mushrooms, Chinese fermented black beans, and hiziki seaweed stand in for the seafood.
  • Stir fried broccoli and Asian greens with ginger
  • Soup: Poblano pepper, corn, and oyster mushroom chowder: yet another week when I want to say “this is the best soup I make!!”
  • Salad dressing: Classic carrot ginger dressing

Upcoming meals, October 26 delivery: Oktoberfest!

What a beautiful week we’ve got coming up. Let’s get right to it:

  • Oktoberfest dinner: tempeh sauerbraten-style with spaetzle and squash: homemade spaetzle, tangy and extra delicious because they’re made with my 30-year-old sourdough starter (I started making it when I was two years old, yep.), as well as a lush, complex, gingery, winey sauerbraten sauce, homemade chickpea tempeh and roasted squash.
  • Braised red cabbage with apples: fall on the plate, with local cabbage and apples!
  • Seitan bourguignon with green vegetables: A real old-fashioned meal, except, you know…better.
  • Mashed potatoes with scallions and horseradish: it’s potato season, yep!
  • Thai-style fall vegetables with braised tofu: a light Thai curry with market veggies.
  • Curry-scented mushrooms: my sous chef Maresa is obsessed with this dish, she’s been waiting for it to come on the menu for months. Beautiful mushrooms + a whisper of light curry powder + a hint of garlic + a shot of lemon juice + a bit of cilantro for color and lightness.
  • Soup: Malaysian laksa soup with rice vermicelli: I feel like every week I say that the week’s soup is my favorite soup, but I just want to say that this is my most favorite soup ever. I first had laksa when I was following my sweetheart around on tour in Australia (the band he works with had an Australian tour, and I tagged along). I had just broken my foot in Melbourne when I tripped and fell down a staircase in a dark music venue, and simultaneously badly needed my wisdom teeth out, so I spent most of the trip in a wheelchair (lots of fun when you’re flying every day) searching every pharmacy on the continent for ever-stronger aspirin. I came across this magical Malaysian noodle soup in an airport in Sydney, and it was the best thing that had happened to me in weeks (except for penguin island, that was so amazing it made all my pains disappear while I was there). Unfortunately, our plane started boarding almost immediately after I got it (and since I was in a wheelchair I had to board first), so I gulped the soup down and have been trying to recreate the flavor ever since. It’s a weird combination of garlic, ginger, peanuts, coconut, dill, noodles, scallions, and tofu, and trust me, you’ll like it. Even if you’re not in a wheelchair in Australia with an incredible toothache.
  • Salad dressing: Olive tapenade and basil dressing: a combination of pesto and tapenade–how could that ever be wrong?

I’ve got two open spots for this week, so just email me if you’d like to order!