Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cast Iron Pans- the original "non-stick" pan

I often get asked the question in my cooking classes, "what type of pots and pans do I recommend" and the simple answer is, cast iron. I don't believe in having more than one non-stick pan and even that you don't need if you have a set of well seasoned cast iron.
I was lucky enough to inherit three of them from my mother's collection when she passed away, having asked her for them years ahead. After all with three daughters she was bound to think of splitting between us if I hadn't nabbed them earlier. I was twice blessed with another "gift" of two more skillets from a student who was throwing them away because she thought they were ruined. Yes, they had been improperly taken care of so were rusty and looked terrible when I saw them by the door ready to go in the garbage, but I asked if she wanted me to show her how to save them and the response was, no I can have them. Lucky me, I thought as I whisked them away and now I have 5 beautiful seasoned cast iron skillets. I rarely use my stainless steel pans anymore after discovering what a joy these old fashioned not so gorgeous looking cookware are.
Here are the simple steps to purchasing and taking care of cast iron.
First, if you can find them at garage or yard sales you will be the luckiest person because more than likely they are old and already well used. This is one pan that gets better with age and as the years go by becomes a best friend. If you aren't into searching the streets of LA for yard sales and would rather buy one today any cookware store is now selling cast iron as it's now back in style. The best ones are Griswold or Lodge. Do not buy a non-stick cast iron pan- I am not sure what the purpose of these are but it's almost an oxymoron.

When you purchase one these days they are already "pre-seasoned". You will still have to prepare it so the food won't stick as in the beginning it is simply not ready yet. It has to be used and gets better with time. Unless the finish is smooth and slick looking (only used pans will look like this)  it will need seasoning no matter what the label says. Since it hasn't been polished yet you will have to scrub your new pan by pouring a thin layer of kosher salt into it and then rubbing it with a paper towel to remove any impurities from the surface. Wash it well with hot soapy water and dry completely. Then add a layer of flavorless oil (anything such as vegetable, peanut, canola) to the entire pan sides included and rub down with a paper towel. Place in a hot oven (450) for twenty minutes until smoking and turning black. Repeat this process until the pan is very black. It can take three or four times before it looks smooth and blackened. Cool the pan and now it's ready to use.

After you have prepared it when using always heat on high heat for about 5 minutes before you add any oil or fat and then lower the heat to medium, add your fat and then heat again for a minute. Then add your food. Avoid excessive soap and acidic foods (such as tomato sauce or anything with vinegar or citrus) until the pan has built up a thick seasoning - where it looks smooth and shiny.

To take care of the pan, use it regularly, this will make the pan a joy to cook with as the layers built up will continue to season it. Don't let it cool before cleaning, it's easier to clean if it's still warm as anything stuck to it will most likely slide out with minimal soap and water. Dry it immediately over an open flame- this the most important step to avoid rusting and having to start all over with the seasoning process. Add a thin film of oil to your pan before storing to keep it from coming into contact with any moisture.
With these simple steps you will enjoy a fabulous pan for the rest of your life and hopefully pass it on to your children or someone you know who loves to cook.

Eating Healthy- Vegan

I have been a fan of vegan and vegetarian food forever and even tried being a macrobiotic for a few years back in my early twenties. It was a lot of work back then as there were no restaurants you could go to and it meant cooking every meal and when you weren't actually cooking you were planning the next one. Between soaking beans, searching for seaweed and cooking large amounts of time consuming brown rice it was a major pain! But I felt great and I am sure I was much slimmer and healthier than I am today.
That said, I eat very clean and healthy and rarely consume red meat. When I do it's in the form of lamb or buffalo which are know to be relatively free of carcinogens and raised more sustainably than other meats. But I still really love a delicious vegetarian meal. 
I discovered Native Foods last week who prepare such cuisine and do it excellently. I know, I am late to the game as this chain of vegan restaurants has been around for at least a year (or more?)here in L.A. and was first opened in 1994, in Palm Springs of all places.
Anyway, the food is very well done with creative interesting ways to use alternative proteins such as tempeh, seitan and tofu- all very yummy. I enjoyed  one of their Earth bowls and a Chimi Chop salad last week and definitely will be returning for more.
The Earth bowls are a combination of steamed grains, your choice of vegetables and flavored with spices or sauces from countries such as, Morocco, Greece or Thailand and there is one bowl called Sesame Kale Macro bowl that is next on my list on my return visit. I found the food well seasoned, cooked perfectly and a large portion- enough for two less hungry souls.
The salad was huge and topped with a seitan that had been cooked with spices and thinly sliced to resemble cooked turkey which was served warm on top of a pile of mixed veggies. The seitan was strangely addictive as it is not meat but almost passes for meat and is filling and satisfying.
I love the concept of cafeteria style places that keep the prices down and lend themselves to casual dining outdoors which couldn't be more perfect for L.A. This is a must visit spot with friendly efficient service and delicious relatively healthy food.
For those of you who want to try your hand at my dish of tempeh with miso sauce- enjoy!

Tempeh Stir Fry with Miso Dressing
Serves 4 to 6

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons miso
1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
3 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley
Fresh pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
1 pound domestic or wild mushrooms, wiped clean, thinly sliced
8 ounces Tempeh, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound baby spinach leaves

1.     Combine the canola oil, honey, miso, tamari, lemon, garlic, sesame oil and parsley in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside.
3.     Heat the vegetable oil in a large high sided skillet and sauté the onion and red pepper over medium high heat until slightly golden about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and tempeh, seasoning with salt and pepper and continue to sauté until the tempeh is lightly browned about 8 minutes. Add the spinach and ¼ cup of water and quickly wilt. Add the dressing to the pan and toss gently. Spoon the mixture onto a platter and serve.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Easy Summer Fish

This is such a great way to make steak type fishes such as salmon, tuna and halibut which I prefer to grill or oven roast.
I love fish and this dish is from my latest class on preparing fish. Enjoy and remember fish must be from a reputable source such as a fish market or Asian market.

Miso Glazed Salmon with Grilled Asparagus
Serves 4

1/3 cup white miso
1 Tb. mirin
1 Tb. soy sauce
1 tsp. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 pounds salmon or sea bass fillets, cut into 4 pieces
Grilled Asparagus:
1 1/2 pounds thin asparagus, trimmed
3 Tb. olive oil
salt and pepper

1.     Combine the miso, mirin, soy and sugar in a small bowl and mix. Add a little water to make a smooth paste.
2.     Line a baking sheet with foil and place the salmon skin side down on the foil. Spread the miso mixture over the fish.
3.     Heat the oven to broil.
4.     Meanwhile combine the asparagus, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Grill for 8 to 10 minutes until the asparagus is slightly charred.
5.     Broil the salmon until browned about 3 minutes, cover loosely with foil and cook another 5 minutes. Transfer to a platter with the grilled asparagus.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Butcher in L.A.

Butcher Excellence at Lindy & Grundy

There's nothing like a good local butcher like Lindy & Grundy. "Great meat and great service," says JudiAU.

The shop's fine points aren't disputed. "Lindy & Grundy is great," says LATrapp. "The service is friendly and warm and invested in your satisfaction. The downside is that if you want to run in to grab a quick chicken or whatever, you might be waiting a bit while they are having a friendly chit-chat with the current customers. The good news is that once you are up, you might as well fire away with the questions—they are happy to help with cooking tips."

Lindy & Grundy is a whole-animal butcher, and the inventory is ever-shifting. Some days the offerings are beef-heavy, and on other days there's lots of rabbit or pork. There's also a small but nice selection of cheeses and a few nonmeat items that might come in handy during meal preparation.

And then there are the nice touches, like serving a pig's ear to the canines that accompany customers. "They even take the dog bones seriously!" says perk. There's also free parking in the back.

But excellence doesn't come cheap. "Quite expensive, as you would expect for pastured meat," JudiAU observes.

Lindy & Grundy [Fairfax Village]
801 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles

Discuss: Lindy & Grundy on Fairfax

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Indian food in Mar Vista

I had a lovely simple and delicious meal a week or two ago at Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine on Venice Blvd in Mar Vista.

This is basically Northern Indian food with an addition of a number of potato dishes as the Himalayas are chilly and the potato is a major food group.

We went with two other people and all of us found the place cozy and quiet. A refreshing change after all the trendy noisy places in L.A.

We ordered a couple appetizers; Aloo Achaar; which is a sautéed potato dish with scallions, chilies, cilantro, garlic and sesame seeds. This was a big hit, very flavorful and just the right amount of spice. We also had Vegetable Momo, which was a dumpling of sorts filled with vegetables, which was a bit doughy and lacked flavor- this one I would scratch from the menu.

We then went on to a number of entrees served with their wonderful Garlic Naan bread that was crispy and thin and very nicely done with plenty of garlic and cilantro. The entrees we had were Chicken Sekuwa- which was chicken breast baked with ginger, garlic and spices, Chicken Vindaloo – baked chicken breast with potatoes, onions and tomatoes and Saag Aloo – a version of Saag Paneer – spinach cooked with potatoes and pureed with spices. All the food was well prepared and flavored just right. Not a restaurant for people that don’t like cilantro as it is in every dish. I am obviously not one of those so I truly enjoyed the generous use of cilantro, garlic and onions.

We stayed for hours after our meal drinking Tibetan beer and feeling very relaxed. No one bothered us to leave and you could talk without having to strain to hear the other person, which went a long way in our enjoyment of the place.

The atmosphere is borderline hole in the wall so not a good first date or romantic destination but for good simple food with great prices I would recommend Tara’s as a neighborhood joint.

Speaking of Indian food I have just returned from Manhattan where I took an intensive masters class in Indian cooking. I am teaching these classes in Venice starting in September at the Culinary Training Program. I learned all about the spices and how to use odd ingredients such as Kokum, Tarmarind seeds, long ridge squash and asafetida.

Here is a sampling of what I learned; the results will impress those who get to enjoy this dish.

Curry Chicken with Tamarind Sauce

Serves 6


1 inch round tamarind pulp

1 cup hot water

Spice paste

2 tablespoons coconut vinegar or sherry wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

3 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground red chili powder

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

2 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks, skin and excess fat removed

Spice mixture

One 1 1/2 inch piece cinnamon stick

5 whole cloves

4 whole green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon mustard seeds, crushed

1 medium-sized yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

4 tablespoons canola or olive oil

6 baby eggplant, left whole- slit open like a radish


1. Place tamarind in a bowl and add the hot water. When cool enough to, handle, crush tamarind pulp with fingers and extract pulp clinging to fibers. Strain the juice into a cup and discard the fibrous residue.

2. Combine the spice paste in a large bowl. Add the chicken and rub it in. Set aside for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge.

3. Combine the spice mixture in a small bowl and set aside.

4. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat until very hot. Add the spice mixture. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is light golden, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, tossing and turning, until lightly seared, about 6 minutes. Add the eggplant and tamarind juice and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook, covered, until the chicken is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning and serve.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Technique Classes at Surfas

Have you dreamed of diving deep into culinary studies to learn the hidden secrets from the professionals? Do you fantasize about wielding a knife like a pro, simmering stocks, braising, sautéing and glazing but your day job gets in the way?

Now you can live your dream and keep your day job! Chef Amanda Cushman, premier Culinary Educator and Private Chef is back in the Surfas Test Kitchen with her "Techniques of Fine Cooking Series". This series of five 3-hour class is meant to give you the information in a professional cooking program but focusing on the skills most important to the home chef.

For more details and to register: (scroll to bottom of page)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Eating at home with a budget

We all know that times are tough and many people are tightening their belts right now. This may mean cutting back on frivolous items or forgoing a favorite activity such as eating out or seeing a movie. Whatever it means to you I have a few tips on how to still have fun while cutting back on spending.

I love going to the movies, so for me, not going is out of the question. But what you can do is substitute dinner with popcorn. There is nothing quite like freshly popped corn with a few good shakes of salt for a satisfying meal. I mean it. Popcorn can be quite filling and delicious and if you have a medium container it can take the place of a meal. A medium serving of popcorn in the movie theatre has 58 grams of fat, 93 grams of carbs and 14 grams of protein. The calories weigh in at 950 but this is dinner, remember, so what is wrong with that? Not to mention the deliciousness of sitting in a dark cool theatre where no one can reach you and you are happily munching away. So there is one tip for saving the fifty odd dollars that can be a meal after a movie.

I personally pop my own popcorn at home, rent a movie and have now saved the price of a movie ticket, parking and gas! So this is the ultimate in a cheap date, something I don’t recommend suggesting until you know the person fairly well.

To pop your own corn you have to start with quality corn. Paul Newman has a good one along with Orville Redenbacher and health food stores have organic pop corn which I usually go for. You heat a medium heavy bottom saucepan over medium high heat and then add a thin layer of vegetable or canola oil. Let that warm up a few minutes and then toss in a half an inch of corn kernels. Cover the pan and wait until you hear that first pop. Then it goes fairly quickly from there and within about 4 minutes you have a huge bowl of hot fresh popcorn. Sprinkle with salt and settle in for a great snack or meal depending on how hungry you are.

Another suggestion is to go meatless and chicken-less once or even twice a week and have a vegetarian evening. You can save quite a few dollars without animal (or fish) protein on the table along with improving your health. Fish has become quite expensive in the last year or so and if you are feeding a family you can’t always afford to spend $60 for four pieces of fish (a price I just paid recently at Santa Monica Seafood).

I think most of us know that meat and chicken is not so great for you especially if it’s not organic and free range, so taking a break from it is a good idea.

I love tofu and tempeh and have enjoyed many dishes where one or the other form of soy protein is the entrée. But there is also the meal made of grilled Portobello mushrooms served over a steamed grain (see recipe below) or eggplant with homemade tomato sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan. Served with a green salad and maybe a loaf of whole grain bread you can feel good about eating and walk away from the meal without that stuffed feeling.

I suggest you check out your local farmer’s market for better deals on seasonal fruits and vegetables and have fun with stir-fry’s, salads and fruit desserts.

Cooking at home is definitely a better deal all the way around. Good for your health, wallet and psyche. That must be why my in home cooking classes are doing fantastic right now.

For those of you wondering about meatless entrees check out the recipes below:

Tempeh Sauté with Miso Dressing

Serves 4



3 Tablespoons canola oil

2 Tablespoons honey

2 Tablespoons miso

2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 Tablespoon sesame oil

3 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley

Fresh pepper


2 Tablespoons canola oil

1/2 red onion, halved, thinly sliced

½ pound domestic or wild mushrooms, wiped clean, thinly sliced

8 ounces Tempeh, diced

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 pounds baby spinach leaves


1. Combine the canola oil, honey, miso, tamari, lemon, garlic, sesame oil and parsley in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, taste and add fresh pepper. Set aside.

3. Heat the canola oil in a large high sided skillet and sauté the onion over medium high heat until slightly golden about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and tempeh seasoning with salt and pepper and continue to sauté until the tempeh is lightly browned about 8 minutes. Add the spinach and ¼ cup of water and quickly wilt. Spoon the mixture onto a serving platter and drizzle with the dressing.

Grilled Eggplant with Miso Glaze

Serves 4


1 Tb. canola oil

1 shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. minced ginger

1 ½ tsp. soy sauce

1/4 cup light miso

3 Tb. light brown sugar

2 Tsp. rice vinegar

2 Tb. chopped cilantro

6 Asian eggplants, trimmed and halved lengthwise

Steamed Basmati or Jasmine rice

Cilantro leaves, garnish


  1. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat and sauté the shallot, garlic and ginger for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to small bowl. Add the soy, miso, sugar and rice vinegar and whisk.
  2. Heat a grill pan or outdoor grill until hot. Brush the eggplants on the cut side with some of the glaze. Place on the grill and lower the heat and grill for 6 to 8 minutes turning occasionally, brushing often with the glaze. Transfer to a platter and spoon some of the sauce over. Serve with rice and cilantro leaves as a garnish.

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Bulghur Salad

Serves 4



1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 Tb. fresh thyme, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed, wiped clean with a damp paper towel


1 1/2 cups bulghur wheat

1 3/4 cups water

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved


1/4 pound parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler


1. Combine marinade ingredients and add mushrooms in a shallow baking pan. Marinate 1 hour, or overnight.

2. Prepare grill. Grill mushrooms about 7 minutes turning and basting often. Reserve the marinade that is leftover. Slice the mushrooms into 1/4 inch slices.

3. Meanwhile, combine the bulghur and water in a small sauce bring to a boil over medium heat and then cover, remove from the heat. The water will be absorbed in about 5 minutes. Transfer the bulghur to a medium bowl and add the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Spoon the bulghur salad on each plate and then place the portobello slices on top. Drizzle the leftover marinade over the mushrooms. Garnish with the shaved parmesan.