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In our cooking classes we find that many people are intimidated by cooking fish. They are worried they will over cook it, that it will stick to the pan, that it will make the whole house smell like fish. These are valid concerns — any of these things could happen. But the truth is that with a few key tips, you can cook fish simply, quickly and efficiently. In fact, fish is really one of the great weeknight dinner options because it cooks in so little time.

One of our favorite fish dishes is this Ginger-Lime Fish with Citrus Salsa. We serve a version of it at our catered events often and it’s always a hit. There are three things that make this dish such a standout AND a great dish to start with if you are a seafood-cooking-novice.

1. The Cooking Method – Instead of searing the fish in a hot pan (delicious but sure to smoke out the house) or grill the fish (lovely but not always an option) we do use the oven to steam the fish. To do this, we place the fish in a shallow baking dish with a small amount of water, cover tightly with foil and bake until tender. The beauty of this method is that the liquid in the dish keep the fish super moist — there is very little danger of overcooking.

2. The Flavor – I find that many people like “white, flaky fish” because it “doesn’t taste like fish.” Kind of a funny thing that we all want fish that doesn’t taste like anything. But I get it — not many people love a strong fish flavor (if you do, try this fish with salmon or sturgeon). So I find myself cooking flavorless white fish a lot and often use wet rubs to infuse some flavor into the fish. A wet rub is usually a blend of spices with a little oil — I love it because it sticks to the meat or fish and delivers immediate flavor. For this dish, I use fresh grated ginger and lime zest instead of strong spices. That way, the fish still has a “fresh” taste. (NOTE: When buying fish, look for shiny fillets and fish that smells only slightly of the sea — it should never smell fishy before you cook it!)

3. The Salsa – While many people reach for a lemon wedge when served fish, I think lemon can actually be really over-powering. I love using a mix of orange and lime to bring some brightness to the dish without overpowering the fish. This citrus salsa is delicious on just about any grilled meat or seafood. Make a double batch — you won’t be sorry!

I hope you’ll give this dish a try and that it opens up a whole new world of easy fish cooking for you. Let us know how it goes!

Ginger-Lime Fish with Citrus Salsa

serves 4

1 tbl grated ginger

1 tbl lime zest

1 garlic clove, grated

2 tbl olive oil

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

4 skinless halibut fillets (or tilapia or any flaky white fish)

2 oranges

1 lime

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1 avocado

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together the ginger, lime zest, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Rub the fish with this mixture and place in a shallow baking dish. Add 1/4 cup water and cover tightly with foil.

Bake for 15 minutes. To check if the fish is done, gently press a fork into the thickest part of the fish. If there is no resistance, the fish is done! If it feels firm at all inside, cook for another 1-2 minutes at a time until done.

Meanwhile, to cut the oranges, cut off the top and bottom of the orange and then cut away the peel. You’ll end up with a perfectly peeled orange minus the pith. Cut the orange into 1/4-inch rounds and then into small pieces. Toss with the juice of 1 lime, the onion and cilantro. Cut the avocado into big chunks and carefully toss. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Serve the fish warm, topped with the salsa.

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First, a confession: chili is one of my all-time favorite foods. For me, it’s all the spices and texture and rich flavor I love in one bowl. Better yet, it’s one of those modern “mother” recipes from which you can make a million different versions. Some of you have watched us make this is one of our cooking classes. But I thought it high-time I share my basic chili recipe broken down so you can see how easy and versatile it really is. Along the way, I’ll share some of my secrets and tips to what I humbly consider the “Best Ever Chili.”

BEST EVER CHILI

makes about 2 1/2 quarts

FIRST – the vegetables

To me, chili is not chili unless you have some actual fresh chilies as the base. However, I know many people do like the heat of chilies or the tang of peppers, so you certainly can leave them out. But you absolutely must have plenty of onion and garlic. If you’re making this into a vegetarian chili OR just want to get a few more servings of vegetables in your day, you can add a cup of finely diced carrots or 2 cups of chopped mushrooms to this list.

2 cups diced onion

1 tbl chopped garlic

1 cup diced red or yellow bell pepper (or poblano chili)

1 finely diced jalapeno or Fresno chili (if you like it hot, add more chili or 1-2 canned chipotle chilies)

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add a small drizzle of olive oil and all of the vegetables. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, until all of the vegetables are beginning to soften.

SECOND – the meat and spices

I have my favorite combination of four spices I always use for chili — this is one area I don’t mess with. And when it comes to spices, I love to get mine at Penzy‘s — they have a fantastic selection and everything is ground recently so the dried spices are so flavorful. However, when it comes to the meat, this is where you can really start to make this chili your own. If I’m in the mood for something rich and meaty, I like to use ground buffalo – it tastes like beef but it’s leaner and a better “eco” choice. If I want something lighter, I’ll use ground white-meat turkey or chicken. And if I’m having a vegetarian day, I’ll skip the meat and add more beans in the next step (OR add some crumbled tempeh in this step for some meat-like texture.). The key to this step of the recipe is to allow the meat to brown and then add all the spices and cook for another 5-10 minutes so the spices brown a bit and their flavor really begins to release.

2 lbs ground meat (or 8 oz crumbled tempeh)

1/4 cup ancho chili powder

2 tbl ground cumin

1 tbl ground coriander

1 tbl smoked Spanish paprika

2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

Add the ground meat or tempeh to the vegetables and cook for about 15 minutes, breaking it apart as it cooks, until it’s nicely browned.

Add the spices, stir and cook for another 5-10 minuets until the spices are very fragrant.

THIRD – the “bulk” ingredients (and a secret ingredient)

Next up are all the ingredients the create the real bulk of the chili. Canned tomatoes are a must, but here, again, you have choices. My favorite are San Marzano whole plum tomatoes. They are tart and sweet and perfect. I like using whole tomatoes and just squeezing them apart with my hands on their way into the pot. Maybe because that’s the way I think my grandmother would have done it. Or maybe because I like to get messy with my food. Actually, it’s at least in part because I like the ragged texture of the tomatoes when treated that way. Your other options are to add diced tomatoes (if you like big chunks of tomatoes in your chili) or crushed tomatoes (if you want a more “saucy” chili). And then there are the beans. This is where chili purists will look down their nose and insist that real chili never has beans. But I’ve never been a purist, especially when it comes to cooking and making food your own. So my rule of thumb is to add at least two kinds of beans….possibly 3-4 different kinds if this is a vegetarian chili. The more color (and the more fiber!), the better. Lastly, I make one final addition that is my “secret” weapon: cornmeal. I add it at the end to thicken the liquid slightly and create a thick and hearty consistency.

1 15-oz can beans (any kind — my favorite are black and kidney)

1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, with their juices (OR diced OR crushed tomatoes)

4 cups beef stock (OR chicken OR vegetarian OR water)

1/4 cup cornmeal

Rinse the beans very well and drain. Then add them to the pot. Add the whole tomatoes to the pot, squeezing and crushing them as you go (OR you can use a more civilized approach and chop them with a large knife or pulse them in a food processor). Add the stock and stir to combine. There should be about 1-inch of liquid above all of the solids — add water as needed to achieve this. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Slowly sprinkle in the cornmeal, stir and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from heat, taste, and season with salt as needed.

FOURTH – the garnish

Perhaps  I love  chili the most for all it’s potential garnishes. I’m always the one adding the extra sauces and salsas to my plate when given the chance and chili is no exception. While all of these garnishes are optional, I really must insist on, at the very least, a dollop of yogurt or sour cream (I use Greek yogurt these days exclusively in place of sour cream, but either works) and some chopped cilantro.

sour cream OR Greek yogurt, for garnish

chopped cilantro, for garnish

chopped tomato, for garnish

chopped green or red onion, for garnish

shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish

Fill bowls with steaming chili and top with any combination of the above garnishes. Enjoy!!


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The first day of Spring just passed and with it came….more rain. As a Southern California girl, the only way I usually know a season is changing is by what’s new at the Farmer’s Markets — as my East Coast relatives often tell me, we don’t get “real weather” here. But this past winter it’s been different. There’s been rain, cold and even snow in LA. And while I’ve been enjoying all the Fall fashion (coats, hats, boots and scarves that are usually tucked away in the closet for most of the year) I think the passing of the first day of Spring officially kicked me into Spring fever. I’m ready for sunshine, outdoor walks and beach days— this is California after all! But apparently, Mother Nature is not ready to acquiesce quite yet. So, as another rainy day set in, I decided to make myself feel better with a one-pot, comfort food dinner and chase the blues away. A kind of “good-bye Winter” meal that would be closure to a wet season and make way for some sunshine.  After a quick look in the fridge, I realized I had everything I needed to make one of my favorites, a quick version of Shepherd’s Pie.

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This dish is one of those makes-everyone-happy dinners — equal parts meat, potatoes and warm-belly happiness. Stewed meat and vegetables topped with creamy mashed potatoes — what could be better? When I have an afternoon to cook, I like making it with cubes of lamb braised in wine. But since it was a weeknight I opted for the ground meat version and within 45 minutes I was curled up on my couch, a steamy bowl of meat and potatoes in hand, saying “good-bye” to the rain and searching the horizon for some blue sky. And since it’s so family-friendly, I think I’ll add this recipe to the menu one of our kids cooking classes or camps.

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QUICK SHEPHERD’S PIE 

This dish is a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes but I was starting with a pile of baby creamer potatoes I had on hand. You can certainly make this dish in a casserole dish or individual oven-safe bowls, but I like to make it in a cast iron skillet that can go from stove-top to oven. Easy and one less dish to clean.

serves about 6

1 tbl olive oil

8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup chopped onion or shallots

1 tsp chopped rosemary

1 lb small creamer potatoes or yukon golds

1 lb organic ground beef (or ground lamb or turkey)

1 1/2 cups diced carrots

1 tbl tomato paste

1 tbl flour

1/2 cup chicken or beef stock (or water)

1/2 cup frozen peas

salt and pepper

2 tbl butter

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

splash milk, as needed

Heat a cast iron skillet (or any oven-safe skillet approx 9-inch round) over high heat. Add the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat until browned (5 minutes). Add the onions and rosemary and reduce the heat slightly. Cook until onions are softened.

Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into like-size pieces, place in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until very tender.

Add the ground meat to the pan and cook, using a wooden spoon to crumble, until the meat is mostly browned and cooked. Add the diced carrots, tomato paste and flour. Cook for a minute, stirring until everything is coated evenly by the flour. Add the stock. Once bubbling, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes until carrots are tender. Remove from heat and add the peas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the broiler on your oven.

Once the potatoes are tender, drain and place back into the hot pot. Add the butter, yogurt and milk as needed while mashing. Season with salt and pepper. (NOTE: Don’t make the potatoes too smooth or thin — you want thick, chunky mashed potatoes for this dish.) Spoon the potatoes on top of the meat mixture and spread out to the edges of the pan.

Place the pan into the oven under the broiler until the top is golden (I like to leave it until some of the potatoes peaks are charred and crispy!).

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The chill in the air conjures up images of creamy pot-pies, hearty braised meats and oozing mac-and-cheese. The devil on my shoulder told me to start making a bechamel sauce in preparation for the cheesiest mac-n-cheese ever. The angel on my other shoulder gasped in horror and suggested a vegetable stew in stead. In the end, the angel won mostly because I realized I didn’t have any cheese in the house. It all started with cauliflower and a can of coconut milk. Then I decided to head in a meat-free direction partly to satisfy my effort to eat vegetarian a few times a week and partly because I didn’t want to go to the store. Then I remembered that a few days earlier I had given my spice cabinet a yearly cleaning and made a little spice mixture with the bottom dregs of a few savory spices. From all of these elements some kind of Indian-influenced one-pot curry dish started to take form. After digging up some cashews from the freezer, I was on my way. Twenty-five minutes later I was sitting down to dinner. It was comforting, creamy and delicious……everything I needed.

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Cauliflower Coconut-Cashew Curry

serves about 4

1 cup cashew pieces

1 tbl coconut oil (olive oil is also fine!)

1 cup finely diced onion

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets

4 roma tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 tsp tumeric

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp corriander

1/2 tsp cayenne

1 tsp salt

1 15 oz can coconut milk

1 cup frozen peas

Heat a small soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the cashews and stir until toasted. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the oil and the onions, garlic, ginger and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender.

Add the cauliflower, tomatoes, all the spices and the salt. Toss to coat. Add the coconut milk and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until mixture has thickened slightly and cauliflower is soft.

Remove from heat, stir in cashews and peas.

Serve with some store-bought naan or rice.

 

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I found one of my favorite things at the Farmer’s Market last week, a big, knobby pile of  sunchokes. These strange looking tubers can be hard to find so I was thrilled to see so many! You might know them as Jerusalem artichokes – they aren’t actually related to artichokes but you see how they got the name once you taste them: they taste like a perfect artichoke heart. They can be a little time-consuming to peel, but it’s worth it! Once peeled, you can chop them up and just saute them in a mixture of olive oil and butter until golden on the outside and tender on the inside. Then you’ll have a mound of this hearty root vegetable that taste like part artichoke heart, part parsnip…I could eat bowls and bowls full. I was inspired to go a step a further and turn them into a veggie pot-pie with a few other root vegetables.

First, if you’ve never seen a sunchoke before, here’s what they look like before and after cooking:

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 And here’s what the finished dish looked like. Piping hot from the oven! I could barely wait to dive in…I have the burned taste buds to prove it. Have fun making your own version of these — remember, you can substitute any kind of root vegetables you like.

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Root Vegetable Pot Pie

makes 4 individual pies

1 tbl butter
1 tbl olive oil
2 cups sliced sunchokes (peeled & cut 1/4-inch thick)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 sprig rosemary
1/2 cup diced leeks
2 tbl flour
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced potatoes
2 cups chicken or veggie stock, as needed
pinch saffron
salt and pepper
store-bought pie dough (enough to cover your baking dishes)
1 egg mixed with 1 tbl water

Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the butter and olive oil. Add the sunchokes, garlic, rosemary and a pinch of salt. Cook until golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Add the leeks and cook another 5 minutes until soft. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the carrots, potatoes, stock and saffron. Add enough stock to cover the vegetables by about 1/2-inch of liquid. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until all veggies are tender and liquid is thickened. Remove from heat and season with more salt and pepper as needed.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Divide veggie mixture between four oven-safe bowls OR combine in a deep-dish pie pan.

Top with the dough, tucking in the edges and covering the vegetables completely. Brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until dough is golden. Remove and let cool slightly before serving.

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