R5 Cooking at Home with Lisa Ocasio, Cortlandt Manor

When not working as a head of digital marketing and raising her daughter Brianna, age 8, Lisa Ocasio of Cortlandt Manor indulges her passion for Italian and Spanish cuisines.

Starting cooking: At age 9. Why? Her parents bought a pizzeria/restaurant. “I loved to be back in the kitchen helping.” First dish prepared: Homemade gnocchi. Signature cuisines: Italian, her heritage, and Spanish, that of her husband. Signature Spanish dishes: Ropa vieja, arroz con pollo, and beef empanadas. Most difficult Spanish dish: Paella. “It’s a challenge trying to get the rich flavor and correct texture of the rice without overpowering the fish.” Favorite dish to prepare: Eggplant rollatini. “It’s a vegetable, so it pleases both vegetarians and meat eaters and I get to use my homemade Italian sauce.” Most enjoyable occasion to cook for: Christmas Day. “Our family is together and we have traditional things like polenta, filet mignon, and figs.” Best dish from leftovers: “Leftover chili with egg whites for breakfast.” Best tip for the beginning baker: Measure, measure, measure. “Baking is very different than cooking. Cooking, you can add ingredients as you go along if it does not taste exactly right. Baking, you cannot.” Favorite baked good to prepare: Ricotta cookies. Easiest dish to master: Pasta with tomato sauce. “Making fresh tomato sauce is simple and it’s easy to give it different flavors with different spices.” Can’t-live-without-it gadget: Garlic press. “Mincing garlic through the press brings out more of its flavor.” Three must-have spices:  Sea salt (“Just a little brings out a lot of flavor.”); cumin (“It brings out so much flavor in Spanish- and Mediterranean-style dishes.”); and saffron (“It adds great taste and color.”) Always in her pantry: Whole-grain pasta. Always in her fridge: Fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  Biggest cooking fiasco: Accidentally freezing a four-pound filet mignon for Christmas Day dinner.

Culinary Influences
Recommended local cooking class: Williams-Sonoma in The Westchester. Must-watch cooking show: “Giada at Home, because her upbringing was similar to mine, always around the importance of cooking and the importance of spending time with your family.” Favorite cooking soundtrack: Italian music. Most food-splattered cookbook: Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California.

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Local Shopping & Dining Guide
Primary supermarket: Stew Leonard’s in Yonkers. Best for produce: Apple Farm in White Plains. Preferred cheese purveyor: Turco’s in Yorktown Heights. Don’t-feel-like-cooking restaurant: La Bocca Ristorante in White Plains.

For Ocasio’s recipe for fontina risotto cakes with fresh chives, visit westchestermagazine.com/webexclusives.

Take It From Them 
Our Chefs’ Top Tips for Newbie Cooks

“Invest in a few basic utensils like a garlic press, a good set of knives, tongs, cooking spoons, a chopper, and a good set of pots, and always buy fresh, high-quality ingredients, especially olive oil. And start simple. Making simple dishes like pastas and salads can help build your confidence to make more difficult dishes.” 

 â–º Plus:

Gina M. Larson-Stoller, Cortlandt Manor
Brian Murdock, Mohegan Lake
Wendy Pregiato, Eastchester
Elly Kelly, Tarrytown
Susan C. Beer, Bedford/Pound Ridge
Mike Zollner, Port Chester
Todd A. Stankiewicz, Tarrytown
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