I wish I had a pantry! My 1,100 square foot house in Seattle isn’t actually graced with a pantry, so I welcome you to Lauren’s drawers and cupboards! I currently teach cooking classes at a life skills center for adults with developmental disabilities so there is no lack of time in the kitchen for me! I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, so at the moment my cooking style is tailored towards a simple, healthy, one-food-feeds all approach. Every once in a while, I make my husband take the kids out of the house for a few hours so I can enjoy making a nice homemade Japanese meal, but those are few and far between!
What herbs do you use most frequently?
Basil (lightly dried): I was never a huge fan of Basil because I never used it quickly enough and it would always go bad (facepalm emoji). Recently, I found lightly dried basil and it keeps in the fridge for several weeks and tastes so fresh (It’s also chopped so I don’t have to worry about the leaf situation). I use it as a topper for any soup, but mostly love it on a good homemade mozzarella, tomato, and olive oil pizza.
Oregano: Such a basic but such a necessity for me. I always have tons of Oregano on hand. I think it tastes great in any soup, on breads, in pastas, it’s just a great way to enhance any basic meal. It also doesn’t have too strong of a flavor so I always sneak it into my kids’ food – works every time.
Cilantro: Besides the fact that it makes my fridge and kitchen smell amazing, I love cilantro because it reminds me of summer. My favorite is in a good homemade salsa and on taco bus tacos, but it’s recently upped my salad game – it adds the extra tanginess that a basic salad sometimes needs.
What about spices?
Johnny’s Seasoning: Just a good ‘ole combo of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, and other random spices. My favorite way to use this is on pan fried brussel sprouts. I just cook them in olive oil and sprinkle this on top along with some parmesan and it tastes like a fancy side dish!
Garlic: I love garlic fresh, or pre-crushed in the fridge when I’m trying to move quickly. My favorite way to use it is on my garlic knots (recipe below). I especially love it fresh when mixed with melted butter and other herbs!
Ginger: There really isn’t anything better than the smell of fresh ginger…fresh lemons takes a close second. That rare Japanese meal that I mentioned earlier is where my ginger comes in; I love it in a fresh Shabu Shabu pot and any hot pot dish. I also love grating it into my stir fries (frys? fry’s?).
What are your pantry staples?
Yeast: Whether I want to spend a whole day with the rising and baking process or do a quick 30 minute homemade option (recipe below), I love using yeast. I use a basic active dry yeast and try to do homemade whenever possible; something about the smell and taste is just always worth it.
Vanilla extract: The ingredient that wears so many hats! Vanilla extract is my favorite for banana/oatmeal smoothies, french toast batter, and vanilla milkshakes. Fun fact: When I was younger I always loved the smell of vanilla so I tried drinking a little thinking it would be amazing and it was horrible. Don’t do it.
Honeycrisp apples: I don’t care how expensive they are – honeycrisps are my favorite apples. I love how crispy and juicy they are compared to other softer apples, in my opinion, like Galas. They’re a great snack to cut up and eat with peanut butter, I dice them up to use in chicken salads, and they’re also good in sweet yellow curries. Again, great for the kiddos and a healthy option!
Ice cream: Yes, I consider ice cream a staple in my kitchen. Unpopular opinion – I’m not a huge chocolate fan (gasp) and I try not to keep too much candy in my house, so ice cream is my secret treat. A good vanilla ice cream is also great in the summer with fruit cobblers. Blackberries grow in the wild in Seattle summers so there is no lack of blackberry crumble and vanilla ice cream around here. Another fun fact from childhood: When I lived in Kenya, there was an American restaurant we always went to for breakfast (Java House) and they served ice cream on top of their waffles. My first time back in the U.S. for several years, my family and I went to IHOP to grab some waffles and I took a big bite of the nice white scoops on top, thinking it was ice cream but they were actually balls of butter…
Spaghetti noodles: I have been surprised at how creative you can get with noodles! Whenever I see a box of noodles I just think of spaghetti or tomato based meals but I recently used noodles to make a yummy parmesan shrimp dish. It’s also a fun food for kids to eat! Tip for small kiddos with noodles: I make the noodle dish exactly how the family is going to eat it, but I run the baby’s noodles under water in a colander so it’s not as hot, salty, or seasoned- this way I don’t have to make separate dishes or worry about altering the recipe!
Who influences you in the kitchen?:
My current influence in the kitchen is Japanese cook Namiko Chen, founder of Just One Cookbook. I always get inspired when I see her meals on Instagram (@justonecookbook) and I try to make a dish of hers at least once every 2-3 weeks. Her recipes are my absolute go-to for Japanese cravings! She currently lives in California so she has advice for places to shop in the U.S. for Asian food ingredients. Her recipes are authentic and I have not found one that I don’t love!
Do you have a go-to hosting tip?
For hosting, I would always recommend doing mostly food that can be pre-prepared or isn’t super temperature sensitive. I can’t tell you how many times I was so excited to do 3-4 freshly baked or warm side dishes that took me away from my company or had me worried about how warm they would stay for everyone. When I have company over, I don’t want to cook, clean up, or be on dish duty. I can do that later.
I remember one time I was set on making my husband’s family (note: 18 people) homemade pizza. I had made it before and perfected a good recipe so I thought it wasn’t a big deal. Turns out I only had one pizza stone, counterspace for 2 doughs to lay out on, and each pizza needed at least 8-10 minutes to cook. His family was fine with waiting for the fresh pizza in intervals of 15 minutes, but I was in the kitchen for 1.5 hours and never really got a chance to chat with anyone or eat the pizza. The pizza turned out great, but ultimately I was just tired and socially unsatisfied, so next time I’ll stick with some yummy vegetable and hummus dishes.
Do you like to listen to any specific music or podcasts when you cook?
Sometimes I get overwhelmed when cooking because I don’t like messy spaces and I get tired from all the heat so I like to listen to music that keeps me pumped up and excited. That usually involves dance or electronic music – sometimes pop stuff if I’m not too sick of it from the radio.
Do you/friends/family have any cooking traditions?
My co-workers are some of my closest friends and we are together several hours a day so we know each other quite well. We always bake for each others’ birthdays and work anniversaries. Usually we do cakes which is quite extravagant but we get creative. Last year for my birthday, my co-worker made me a peanut butter pretzel and chocolate ganache cake which was incredible and this year I made him a banana creme pie which is one of his favorites. It’s more of a baking than a cooking tradition, but nonetheless it is food and yumminess bringing people together.
Lauren’s Garlic Knots
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 cup milk
- 2 T instant yeast
- 1 T honey
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 3-3 ½ cups flour
- 2 T butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tsp Italian seasoning
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- 3-4 T grated Parmesan/Romano cheese
1. Preheat oven to 400 Line a 9×13-inch rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking liner. Set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, melt butter. When butter is mostly melted, stir in milk, and heat mixture to 100-110 F.
3. Add yeast and honey to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or bowl if mixing by hand).
4. When milk mixture is at temperature, add to yeast and honey; stir to combine. Add salt and egg, and stir. Stir in 2 ½ cups of flour. Add remaining flour until dough clings to paddle and cleans the sides of the bowl. Knead with paddle attachment for 2 minutes (or by hand for about 5 minutes). Shape dough into 12 knots, and place dough on prepared baking sheet.
5. Cover, and let dough rest for 10 minutes. Bake for about 9-12 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. While the knots are baking, prepare the garlic butter. In a small bowl, stir together ingredients for garlic butter. After removing the rolls from the oven, brush with garlic butter, sprinkle with cheese if using, and enjoy!