Back to Basics

I’ve spent most of my career writing and developing recipes for long lead-time magazines. It wasn’t unusual for me to hit send and not see an article again until it was in print a year later. So it’s been a big change for me to teach classes face to face, as I did at Rancho La Puerta last week.

And I have to say: I love it. Now I get to see up close and personal where people trip up in the kitchen and when the aha! comes into their eyes. Here are three of the basics that come up again and again, yet leave the most lasting impact.


  • Learn how to dice. One of the biggest hurdles to eating more vegetables is all the darn prep time. But learning how to quickly cut pieces of uniform size makes it go much faster … and makes prep time much more enjoyable. (Here’s how to dice an onion.)

How to: Cut your vegetable so it has a flat surface to rest on the cutting board. Hold your knife parallel to the cutting board and slice horizontal slices as thick as you want your cubes to be (it’s easiest if you leave a connector area, like the root end of an onion, in tact to hold the slices together). Then pinch those slices together with your left hand and cut lengthwise slices of the same width perpendicular to the cutting board. Continue to hold the pieces together with fingers like a claw and cut cross-wise slices the same width as the other two cuts. The result will be uniform cubes of vegetables—whether onion, sweet potato or zucchini.

  • Make mincing garlic easy. Those jars of minced garlic may seem like a great convenience, but you’re really not doing yourself any favors. Much of garlic’s pungency comes from the oils released by smashing or cutting the cloves, and their strength dissipates over time. But once you learn how to quickly mince garlic, you’ll see it takes less than a minute to prep 3-5 cloves, which is all you need for most dishes.

How to: One at a time, smash a clove by laying the side of your chef’s knife on top (with the blade parallel to the cutting board) and hitting it hard with your palm. Remove the skin. Smash the skinless cloves once again with the side of your knife, scrape the garlic together and run over it a few times with your knife using a rocking motion; hold your hand flat on top of the tapered end of the blade to keep it still while you rock up and down with the hand holding the knife, moving forward and back over the garlic.

  • Make your stainless-steel pan nonstick. One of the most frustrating things in the kitchen is when food sticks to a pan. But it’s almost impossible to create a fond for making pan sauces if you’re using a nonstick pan all the time. The secret is to heat your regular pan before you add oil (or butter or bacon fat or …). When you add oil to a cold pan, it sinks into the microscopic nooks and crannies in the metal. Heating it first makes the cells expand to create a more uniform surface that, once slicked with oil, becomes virtually nonstick.

How to: Heat your regular pan over medium-high heat and wait until it feels like you’re warming your hands over a campfire when you hold your hands over the pan. Then swirl the oil around the pan and wait a few seconds for it to shimmer before adding whatever you’re going to sauté.

I hope these three back-to-basics cooking tips help you! Now go practice all three (OK, well, two) on this tasty Sautéed Succotash … you can get video tips for prepping just about every ingredient listed in our library of Kitchen Tips Video Clips.

Relandscape Your Kitchen

Lately, as I’ve been getting my garden into shape, I’ve been reflecting on how some outdoor techniques can apply in the kitchen to create a healthier landscape to cook in. Here are three ways to relandscape your kitchen (and, unlike most landscaping projects, they won’t cost you a cent!):


  • Get Rid of What Doesn’t Work– When we first put our yard in, Christopher and I were on the lookout for ground cover. We saw one we liked—a euphorbia—and I bought a bunch of seedlings hoping they’d take root and spread. And oh did they spread. That particular type of euphorbia, it turns out, spreads by underground rhizome, and although the tag had promised it would max out at eight inches tall, most of our plants were bushy 2-foot monsters.What had seemed attractive at first ultimately threatened to choke out all the painstakingly placed plants in the yard. There’s a parallel here with our pantries. I used to pack my pantry with pretzels because they seemed attractive as a “low fat” choice. Over time, though, I discovered that I was always at battle with them. I wanted the pretzels to make me slim, but instead I’d feel sluggish and bloated after eating them. Sometimes, we just need to admit that something needs to come out.
  • Move Things Around– My mom’s yard is always in flux; in a good way. If a hosta becomes stagnant, she’ll relocate it under another tree. If a clump of lilies becomes too dense, she’ll dig them up and replant them throughout the garden. The lesson I’ve gleaned from my mom’s technique is that location does affect whether or not something “takes.”I think of this every time I open my cupboard and see my grains on the shelf above my head. I say I want to eat more whole grains—both in quantity and variety—and yet they’re essentially out of sight and in a place that takes effort to reach. By moving my grains to a more accessible location (on my project list), they’ll have more of a chance to take root in my family’s daily diet.
  • Try Some New Things– Some of my greatest triumphs in the garden have come from experimentation. One year, we became smitten with Padron peppers at a restaurant and decided to give growing them a try. Since then, they’ve been hands-down the most productive plant in the garden every year. Little delights like that can happen in your kitchen too, and you don’t even need to buy anything new. If you bought a jar of cardamom for a coffeecake recipe six months ago, give it a shot in a curry. If you have some dried chiles lingering on a shelf, throw a few in a pot of beans.

This week, seek out ways to relandscape your kitchen so it will better nurture you.

Great Food Nourishes “The Help”

Are you planning to see “The Help” this week? It opens today, and it’s based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel about the lives of middle-class white women and the black women who work for them in Jackson, Miss., in 1962. Lia and I both read it last summer and loved it. (I might play hooky and catch a matinee this afternoon – shhh, don’t tell Lia!)

the-helpOf course, when it comes to anything about the Deep South, food plays an important role in the movie – especially Minny’s famous chocolate pie. And Southern fare has a special place in our hearts at NOURISH Evolution. Lia and I may both be California girls – Lia by choice and me by birth – but we’ve each done a turn in the South that left its mark on our palates. Lia went to college at Tulane in New Orleans, and I spent six years in Alabama.

So, in honor of “The Help,” we’re sharing some of our nourishing tastes of the South:


Is Healthy Food Really Too Expensive? 7 Ways to Save

Healthy food is expensive. We’ve all heard that before. You may have read that on the Internet or heard it on NPR as outlets reported on a study in the journal Health Affairs.
Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health crunched some numbers to find out how much it would cost to eat according to the new federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They determined that meeting the government’s recommendation for potassium, a mineral that’s key to regulating blood pressure, would add $380 to the average person’s annual grocery bill.

They also found that the more saturated fat and added sugar a person consumes, the more food costs drop.

The issue isn’t that healthy food is too expensive but that our government’s current system of farm subsidies has made the price of unhealthy food artificially low. We spend less on food – not even 6% of our income – than the rest of the world.

Of course, all those cheap eats come at a very high price. What people save in the short term at the cash register when they load up on fatty, sugary, salty processed food they pay in the long term with their health. A recent large-scale study found that high-sodium/low-potassium diet – otherwise known as the standard American diet (SAD — really!) – significantly increases risk of death from all causes.

Is there any higher price than that?

But how much does healthy food cost, really? A USDA study earlier this year found it costs $2-$2.50 a day, on average, for the recommended daily 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables. But other USDA research has also found geography has a big impact on food prices. What’s cheap for me in Southern California may be pricey for you.

We talk about food costs all the time in NOURISH Evolution, and while we believe a nourishing diet is a smart investment, we don’t think it should break your budget. With that in mind, here are 6 ways to save on your groceries:

  1. Cook! Awhile back we asked our Facebook followers to share their strategies for saving money on groceries. The No. 1 tip? Buy whole foods and cook from scratch.
  2. Plan meals. Planning is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Armed with an organized shopping list, you’re less likely to give into temptation for expensive “extras” at the store and you’re more likely to use up everything you buy. (Need some help planning weeknight meals? Check out our Nourish Weekly Menus service.)
  3. Eat in season. It’s a bargain compared to out-of-season fare. It tastes better, too.
  4. Shop smart for organics. Don’t always want to pay extra for organic produce? Choose organic versions of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen (fruits and vegetables most likely be contaminated with pesticides) and go for cheaper conventional versions of the Clean 15.
  5. Check out the bulk bins. You can save up to 60% on pantry staples – with much less packaging, which is nice for the planet.
  6. Pay cash. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research found people are much more likely to splurge on unhealthy treats when they pay with a credit or debit card than when they use cash. Lesson: Leave the plastic at home when you go grocery shopping.
  7. Minimize food waste. If you’re like the average American family, you throw away $2,275 a year in uneaten groceries tossed in the trash or the compost heap or sent down the garbage disposer. Remember, buy only what you need and use what you buy. This  pesto is an easy way to use up extra herbs – use any combo of herbs you have on hand.


Summer Confits

This post may be a bit premature, since we’re all still in the early glow of summer’s offerings. But as the season wears on and you’ve had your 304th tomato salad and 172nd roasted pepper, odds are you’re going to be looking for other ways to use your summer veggies. Well I’ve got just the thing: a summery confit.

Officially, confit (pronounced con-FEE) is a specialty of Southwestern France where meat is cooked in its own fat for long hours at a low heat to render it succulent and silken—think duck confit and you’ll get the picture. Unofficially, confit is just about anything cooked slowly in a bit of fat and its own juices to give it a melt-in-your-mouth texture and rich depth of flavor, making it a great technique to use on summer veggies.


There’s a magical give and take with a vegetable confit. Oil at a steady, low heat almost melts the vegetables and burnishes them with just the slightest hint of sweetness while they, in turn, impart their distinctive flavor back into the oil. Strain off that oil and you’ve got the makings for one tasty vinaigrette. Or scrape everything into a tight-sealing jar and store it in the fridge for up to a week.

Using Confits

Summer confits are extraordinarily versatile—somewhere between a condiment, a spread, a dip and a sauce—and the ultimate summer convenience food. Here are just a few ways to use them:

  • *  Mounded on grilled baguette slices for out-of-this-world crostini toppings
  • *  Tossed with pasta and a grating of pecorino for an easy, no-cook pasta sauce
  • *  Served in a bowl next to a basket of pita chips as an impromptu dip
  • *  Spooned onto a plate as a condiment for a cheese course
  • *  Spread on the bottom of a baguette as the base for a stellar sandwich
  • *  Mixed into beaten eggs for an easy frittata

Making Confits

Confits take a bit of time to cook because of the low-and-slow approach, but they scale easily so feel free to double or even triple the recipe. The basic method is the same for all confits, although you’ll have to adjust timing and measurements for each vegetable.

Step 1: Start with 2 cups thinly sliced vegetables (some, like onions and peppers, will hold their shape better than others, like zucchini and tomatoes, which will become almost the consistency of jam or marmalade). Feel free to add thinly sliced aromatics (garlic, shallot, onion or even ginger) and chopped herbs to the heap.

Step 2: Heat ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil over medium-low heat in a large sauté pan and swirl to coat the pan. Add vegetables (along with any aromatics or herbs) and a pinch of salt and pepper (add a pinch of sugar tooif it’s an especially bitter vegetable). Toss to coat. Cook, stirring every few minutes to ensure even cooking, for 25-75 minutes depending on the vegetable, until they’re meltingly soft and lightly gilded with caramelization.

Step 3: If you like, finish with a squeeze of lemon or a bit of citrus zest or fresh herbs.

Makes 1 to 1-1/2 cups

Grilled Wild Salmon with Smoked Paprika

This wild salmon recipe has become one of my weeknight faves. Wild salmon is an ingredient that doesn’t need a lot of “help.” It has rich texture and full flavor, so your best bet is to keep it simple. This super-easy rub calls on smoked paprika to complement the richness of the fish. We love it on tortillas, topped with our Fiery-Sweet Peach Salsa, Quick-Pickled Red Onions and sliced avocado.