Archive for the ‘Sauces’ Category

I’m always so excited to see the first asparagus of the season. It usually begins with just a few bundles on the tables of our farmer’s market…the tentative beginnings of the crop. Then, within a couple weeks, there are huge piles of asparagus signaling Spring is really here. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for Spring….ready for some sunshine, ready for all my favorite green veggies (artichokes, peas and spring onions) and ready to eat asparagus like crazy for the next few months until it goes out of season.

I recently learned more about the difference between the large, thick stalks of asparagus and the thin, pencil variety. I always thought the thin was more tender and desirable. Turns out the large, thick asparagus are actually the first shoot of the plant and, therefore, more tender and flavorful. But you have to be careful to trim the bottom of those big stalks (that part is full of fibers and can be tough) and peel the outer green layer. Then you’re left with the most flavorful, tender asparagus to work with. I like the big ones simply steamed and served with a drizzle of good olive oil and a squirt of lemon juice and a crunch of Maldon salt — simple and delicious.

When I have the smaller stalks, my favorite thing to do is toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and throw them on the grill. I love the charred black bits against the bright green and all that smokey flavor. If I have more time, I’ll make my favorite Roasted Red Pepper Sauce to go over the top….full of more smokey flavors and a nice acidic tang from Sherry vinegar. We also use this sauce in our catered events to serve over roasted potatoes or salmon….it’s also delicious sopped up with some good bread! Enjoy!


Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

makes 2 cups

2 red bell peppers

1 clove garlic

1/2 tsp red chili flakes

1 tsp dijon mustard

2 tbl Sherry vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Place the peppers over a gas flame and cook, turning as needed, until all the skin is blackened. Remove and place in a bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Let cook for 10 minutes. Use paper towels to rub off the black skin and discard. Cut open the pepper and discard the stem and seeds. Pat the pepper dry and place into a blender. Add the garlic, chili, mustard, vinegar and olive oil. Blend until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.



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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of teaching a culinary workshop on Authentic Regional Mexican food at Kansas State University. It was a whirlwind trip full of delicious food and so many lovely people. Missy Schrader, from the school’s Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics, is responsible for coordinating this Culinary Enhancement Workshop each year – she’s got a passion for bringing exciting flavors to Kansas and it’s fun to be a part of it!

This marked the third year Missy invited me to be the featured chef and this time I brought my love for authentic Mexican flavors and ingredients to Kansas. As a life-long California girl, Mexican food has long held a special place in my heart. Not only the ubiquitous LA tacos but also the more authentic dishes that have found their way across the border like Chicken Mole, Chilaquiles and Snapper Veracruzana. For me, there’s nothing better than the mix of chilies and lime juice and salt….these are the flavors that mean “home” to me. I decided to bring these flavors to life in a number of sauces and meat dishes that really represent the culinary core of Mexico.

I started the workshop making three different typical Mexican sauces. First, a Fresh Tomato & Chili Salsa (pico de gallo), then an Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa with cooked tomatillos, charred poblano peppers and lots of cilantro. Finally, I made a quick cooked salsa with chipotle and tomato – essentially a basic red enchilada sauce – that I used to make these delicious Chilaquiles (tortilla chips cooked in salsa topped with chorizo, potatoes and crema – the ultimate hangover breakfast!).

The next segment was all about meat dishes and I made the complex and delicious Chicken with Green Mole, followed by Crispy Carnitas. Here’s a huge batch of the carnitas braising – we made enough to fee 180 people for lunch — that is a thing of beauty!!

The key to delicious carnitas is the two-step cooking method: first the pork gets braised in oranges and chilies and beer until tender. After it cools it gets fried in hot oil to create a crispy exterior. Here I am starting the braise….I love using sliced whole oranges…they pair so well with the heat from the chilies.

Lastly, I demonstrated some seafood dishes including one of my favorites of all time: Baja Fish Tacos. Is there anything better than crispy fried fish tucked inside warm tortillas with spicy crema and crisp cabbage? I don’t think so!

The day ended with a fun hands-on segment where participants got to make Roasted Poblano & Cheese Empanadas and fresh tomatillo salsa.

I had so much fun making these dishes, we’ve added a shortened version of the workshop to our cooking class calendar. Join us Tuesday, April 17th for a Tour of Mexico and learn to make the Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa, Chorizo & Potato Chilaquiles, Chicken with Green Mole and Corona Beer-Battered Fish Tacos.

For those of you who can’t join us, here are two of the salsa recipes for you to try at home.

Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa

makes about 2 1/2 cups

1/2 pound fresh tomatillos

1 poblano pepper

1/2 large jalapeno

1/2 cup cilantro

1/2 cup small diced white onion

1 medium avocado

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp salt

preparation –

Bring a small pot of water to boil. Remove the paper husks from the tomatillos and place into the boiling water. Cook for 3-4 minutes until slightly softer and darker in color. Remove and place in an ice water bath.

Place the poblano over a live gas flame and char on all side. Remove from the fire, into a bowl and cover with  kitchen towel and let cool. Rub away the blackened skin and discard. Cut open and discard the steam and seeds.

In a food processor, combine the tomatillos, roasted poblano, jalapeno, cilantro, onion, the flesh of the avocado, lime juice and salt. Blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt as needed. Serve immediately or store, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.


Fresh Tomato-Chili Salsa

makes 4 cups

1 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, halved and seeded

1/2 cup small diced white onion

1-2 serrano chilies, cut into small pieces

1 small garlic clove, peeled

1 tsp dried oregano

1/3 cup cilantro leaves

2 tsp fresh lime juice, plus more to taste

1 tsp salt

preparation –

In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, onion, chilies, garlic, oregano, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Pulse until mixture is very finely chopped. Taste and season with more lime juice and salt as needed. Let sit 1 hour at room temperature before serving.



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2012 has started with a bang! Since the first week in January, when we got back from a much-needed, relaxing holiday break, we’ve been busier than ever. Our cooking classes have been full with people fulfilling their New Year’s resolution to learn how to cook. We’ve had lots of team building events on the calendar with corporate groups wanting to kick off the new year with a bonding cooking activity with their team. But most notably, we’ve been busy catering thanks to our exciting new client, the LA Galaxy, Los Angeles’ very own soccer team!! We are now their steady caterer and provide lunch to all the guys every single day. We’ve been having lots of fun giving them our version of nutritious comfort food that will keep them fueled on the field. And boy have they been loving it! Our favorite reoccurring comment has been “Wow. This is REAL food.” We love how much they appreciate getting real, seasonal food. Even David Beckham is a fan!

We’re keeping the food simple and nutritious…..like our Lemon Grilled Chicken over Tomato-Caper Salsa with Fresh Basil.

But we’re also throwing in some comfort food favorites to keep the guys happy……like our Ham & Provolone Italian Subs with Sundried Tomato Spread and Italian Dressing.

And, of course, we’re featuring the best of seasonal produce…like our daily fresh fruit platter that’s been featuring Cara Cara oranges and kiwi lately.

If 2012 keeps up with this pace, it will be over before we know it! In the meantime, here’s our recipe for tomato-caper salsa we served with the grilled chicken. It’s simple and delicious on fish, steak or even tossed with pasta. Sometimes I just make a big dish and eat it like a salad. In the winter in California, it’s best with the baby tomatoes – we can usually get them locally throughout the year when the other tomato varieties are out of season. In Summer this is especially good with some chopped heirloom tomatoes.

Tomato-Caper Salsa Cruda

makes 3 cups

2 1/2 cups diced seeded tomatoes (OR halved baby tomatoes)

1/4 cup finely minced shallot (or spring onion if available)

1 tsp lemon zest

1 garlic clove, grated

1/4 cup chopped capers (rinsed well before chopping)

1 tbl sherry or red wine vinegar

pinch red chili flakes

2 tbl olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (mint is also a nice option)

salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, shallot, lemon zest, garlic, capers, vinegar and chili flakes. Mash together with the back of a large fork or potato masher until some of the tomatoes have lost some juice. Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Add olive oil and basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with grilled meat, chicken, fish OR toss with warm pasta and serve immediately.

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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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Do you ever get obsessed with a dish you’ve had at a restaurant? Happens to me all the time! The latest dish of my affection is the humble chipotle sauce that MChaya serves with their breakfast burritos (their burritos are delicious on their own — but that’s another post). This “salsa” is actually a smooth red-orange sauce that’s smokey and heavy with that iconic chipotle flavor balanced with a bit of vegetable subtle sweetness and the tang of fresh tomatoes. Saying I love this sauce is an understatement. It is, to me, what ketchup or sirracha is for many people — that ubiquitous condiment that I can eat on absolutely everything.

But how many days a week can I legitimately go to MChaya and ask for extra sauce to squirrel away at home? I decided it was high time I figure out how to re-create this sauce on my own. Good news — it was a success!




Here’s what I discovered about this sauce:

It’s success depends on sweet tomatoes (perfect this time of year), a few carrots for depth and texture (that was the secret ingredient I missed in the first batch), a light hand with the chipotle and some key spices. Most importantly of all, this is a salsa that is served cold but needs to cook for a while for all of the flavors to meld together first. The recipe below makes a generous 4 cups — probably more than you need on hand unless you’re a salsa junkie like me. So you can freeze half (then re-blend after defrosting to fix any separation issues OR you can simply cut the recipe in half).

Aside from being tucked inside a breakfast burrito or on a crispy tortilla chip, this sauce is particularly good on grilled pork chops, in huevos rancheros or on fish tacos. I think this needs to be added to our new Latin Cooking Party menu.

Chipotle Tomato Salsa

makes 4 cups

olive oil

1 small white onion, roughly chopped

4 vine-ripened tomatoes, halved and seeded then roughly chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 glove garlic, minced

2 chipotle peppers (from the can, with a little of the adobo sauce from the can, too)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

salt and pepper

2 tbl maple syrup, plus more to taste

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and drizzle in a little olive oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are soft. Add the tomatoes, carrots, garlic, chipotle, cumin, paprika and water to barely cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, adding a splash more water as needed if it cooks out too quickly. Cook until veggies are VERY soft and the water is reduced by half.

Carefully blend the mixture (in batches as needed — only fill your blender half way up with the mixture!). Stir in salt and pepper to taste (NOTE: It will need more salt that you think!). Add the maple syrup and taste. Balance the heat by adding a little more maple syrup if desired.

Let cool completely and serve as a cold salsa. Will stay good in your refrigerator for up to 10 days.

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I walked into the grocery store yesterday and was met with a HUGE display of apples — Honeycrisps, Jonagolds, Granny Smiths, Braeburns, Pink Ladys, Fujis — and I knew that Fall had officially begun. Sure, we can get apples all year but only in Fall do we get such amazing variety and only in Fall do they taste so delicious. Each apple has it’s own personality — Fujis are crisp and tangy with a bit of sweetness, Honeycrisps stand by their name and deliver a honey-sweet bite, Granny Smiths pack a sour punch and Braebruns have a soft and mellow taste. An apple for every occasion.

So I did what I do at the start of every Fall season: I gathered up a big bag of apples and headed home to make apple butter. For me, there’s no better way to get ready for the best eating season of the year than filling the house with the warm scent of apples and spice. My apples of choice for this project: Granny Smiths and Honeycrisps.

Here I must digress and mention that I grew up in the little Northern California town of Sebastopol which (before it was known for vineyards) was know as an apple town. Gravenstein apple orchards surrounded the town and there was at least one apple tree in everyone’s yard. For one year my family rented a house with an acre of apple orchard and it was there I was introduced to the age-old farmer’s idea of taking one ingredient and using it in every possible way. We made applesauce, apple bread, apple slaw, apple and spinach salad, apple and chicken stew (flavored with curry — delicious!!), apple pie and my personal favorite: apple butter. There was something about the way these Gravenstein apples cooked down with nothing more than a bit of water and a bit of sugar that was pure magic. Three humble ingredients transformed into a thick, caramel-tasting spread. Nowadays I can’t find Gravenstein apples at the stores and I miss their perfect blend of sweet, sour and crunch. Instead, when I’m cooking with apples I use a mix of Granny Smiths for sourness and some Honeycrisps or Fujis for sweetness.



The trick with apple butter is to avoid adding too much liquid — the idea is to cook down the apples until they are a thick spread, not a soupy applesauce. The best way to do this is to start the apples with a bit of water and cook covered for 30 minutes. Once the apples have broken down, remove the lid and cook over low heat for 2-3 hours until the mixture is dark in color and has a spread-like consistency. This way all the liquid evaporates and the flavors become more concentrated. Be sure to stir often to prevent burning.

Enjoy this recipe! I think I’ll have my second portion on a Trader Joe’s toasted whole grain waffle with some butter. YUM!!


makes about 3 1/2 cups

3 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices

3 honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

pinch ground nutmeg

2 large strips orange peel (use a potato peeler to shave off two strips from a large orange)

pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1/2 a vanilla pod, OPTIONAL (don’t use vanilla extract if you can’t get the paste or pod just skip it)

1 cup water

Combine all of the ingredients in a pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook for 30 minutes undisturbed. Remove cover and stir — apples should be broken down now.

Reduce heat to very low and leave the lid off. Cook for 2-3 hours, stirring often, until apples are completely broken down and mixture is a deep caramel color.

Remove from heat and taste. Add more sugar as desired and let cool. Store in jars, refrigerated, for 2-3 weeks.

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