Chef Lorena Garcia shares 5 time-saving kitchen tips + her fave recipe (EXCLUSIVE)
Venezuelan-born chef Lorena Garcia is an impressively busy and productive woman. She is a restaurateur, a published author, a TV host, the creator of Taco Bell's "Cantina Bell" menu and in a world where more and more chefs are becoming famous, this woman is a full on celebrity. On Cinco de Mayo, Garcia will be on HSN sharing the newest additions to her very successful line the Lorena Bella Collection that is all kinds of fashionable (yes, fashionable, just look at that pretty purple pot in the picture), functional, light-weight and even environmentally friendly.
I got a chance to chat with Garcia about all sorts of kitchen stuff including her abuela's cast iron pots and pans. She also gave me really great time-saving cooking tips to share with you and one of her favorite Venezuelan recipes for arepas stuffed with reina pepiada. Oh and she made laugh too, I'm prone to like anyone that makes me laugh, now if I could just get her to invite me over for dinner.
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I was really touched when Garcia told me that her abuela passed away and left her with treasured cast iron pots and pans. Isn't that sweet? It's this connection that Garcia has with tradition, heritage and cooking that led her to collaborate in making a "useful line that speaks to our culture, but also brings a solution in the kitchen," as she calls it, because abuela's cast iron pots and pans are awesome, but they are heavy as heck.
Garcia wants to inspire more people to cook at home, but she understands that no one, not even her, wants to spend all day in the kitchen. So I asked her to share with those of use who aren't professionals five time-saving kitchen tips and here's what she offered up:
1. If you roast a chicken, save the bones and make a delicious stock out of them that you can freeze and have on hand for other dishes.
2. Make more sofrito than you need at one particular time and split it up in little baggies that you can keep in the freezer.
3. Keep fresh vegetables on hand. You can grill both protein and veggies in the same pan and have a delicious and healthy meal.
4. Set yourself up with the right tools to cook. It makes it much easier to cook when you have everything you need.
5. Having pots that do double duty from stove to table or from oven to table helps cut time, reduce clean up and also helps keep food warm while being served.
Now I gotta tell you how Garcia cracked me up. I asked her what her favorite Venezuelan dish is and she laughed and said, "It's like me telling you which child I love more!" Of course she can't pick a favorite, but she does love arepas like nobody's business and she shared one of her fabulous recipes for them with us. Enjoy!
Arepas Stuffed with Reina Pepiada by Lorena Garcia
Makes 16 arepas
2 cups Don~a Arepa, Harina P.A.N., or Areparina corn flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken (about 1/2 rotisserie chicken)
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3/4 cup light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Hass avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and finely diced
1. Adjust your oven racks to the upper- middle and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Whisk together the corn flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Whisk the butter into 21/2 cups of water, then add it to the flour mixture, stirring until well combined. The dough will start out loose but the flour quickly absorbs the liquid. Start to knead the dough in the bowl and once it becomes very soft and doesn't stick to your hands, after about 8 minutes, the dough is ready to be shaped (if, while kneading, the dough seems too stiff and breaks apart, add a few tablespoons of hot water; if it is too sticky, add a little more corn flour).
4. Divide the dough into 16 equal balls and flatten each between your palms into a 3 1/2- to 4- inch patty that's about 1/3 inch thick (for a less rustic- looking arepa, press the arepa into a disk using a flat- bottomed plate; you can wet your hands with a little water if the dough is slightly sticky).
5. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium- low heat for 2 minutes. Add 3 or 4 arepas to the pan (depending on how big your pan is); the arepas should sizzle as they hit the skillet. Cook the arepas until they're golden and have a nice crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip them and brown the other side for an additional 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the arepas to a rimmed baking sheet and set aside. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil (if the pan is dry) and the remaining arepa dough disks (you'll probably need to use two baking sheets to bake the arepas).
6. Bake the arepas until they puff up, 20 to 30 minutes, switching the pans so the top baking sheet is on the bottom and the bottom moves up to the top, midway through cooking. Remove from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before serving with butter, cream cheese, queso fresco, or mozzarella.
7. Place the chicken in a large bowl. Add the onions, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and cilantro and salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Gently stir in the avocado, taste, and adjust the seasonings as needed.
8. Slice a slit into the top edge of each arepa and gently wiggle a paring knife into the arepa, creating a pocket. Divide the chicken salad among the arepas and serve.
Images via Lorena Garcia