Home Cookin’

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Sur La Table offers a variety of cooking classes. | Photo by Sur La Table

Local chefs encourage at-home cooks to try making favorite recipes in their own kitchens.

By Tanya A. Yacina


Discovering a favorite dish at a restaurant can be a divine experience, often encouraging a patron to revisit the establishment that created it again and again. It’s also a nice option to try re-creating that meal at home, in the comfort of your own kitchen with your own tools and tricks—maybe even making it better with a few additions.

But where does one begin to become an at-home master chef? Luckily, several local restaurants offer cookbooks while a few kitchen supply stores host workshops to get budding chefs started. Angel Lara, resident chef and instructor at Sur La Table in Corona del Mar, suggests taking one of the shop’s many cooking classes to help inspire culinary creativity, as well as learn essential skills and techniques to prepare favorite recipes in the comfort of your home.

Angel Lara_Sur La Table
Angel Lara is the resident chef and instructor at Sur La Table in Corona del Mar. | Photo by Sur La Table

“My favorite classes to teach are the family-fun classes,” he says. “It’s rewarding to watch a family connect and it’s beautiful to be a part of that experience. … We teach the skills needed in class and families can put their own creative spin on what they’ve learned [when they re-create a dish] at home. The date night classes are also a fun way for couples and friends to spend time with one another while learning something new and unique.”

Gracias Madre Executive Chef Diana Briscoe says her personal inspiration for culinary creations comes from the traditions and love of her family, especially her grandmother who taught her how to cook when she was a young girl. She says dishes on the menu at Gracias Madre focus on gluten-free, organic and high-quality ingredients, and serves those with different dietary restrictions while providing a unique dining experience.

The Gracias Madre Cookbook_Lisa Romerein
“The Gracias Madre Cookbook” offers plant-based inspiration for home chefs. | Photo by Lisa Romerein

“Our menu is easy to do, but of course, some items involve more technique than others,” Briscoe explains. “I recommend checking out our new ‘Gracias Madre Cookbook’ for tips and tricks on how to make our dishes at home. A few items to try would be our ceviche, pastor cauliflower tacos, oyster asada mushrooms tacos, ‘crab’ cakes (pastelitos de palma) and tortilla soup.”


Cooking Essentials

An at-home chef should be set up with the essentials needed to whip up delectable dishes. Lara recommends investing in good quality saute pans, including some that are nonstick. Other items to have in a properly equipped kitchen are a stockpot with steamer basket, high-temperature spatulas and sharp knives as well as a stand mixer, food processor and quality blender. 

Headshot_chef Diana Briscoe_portrait_Talia Dinwiddie/Gracias Madre
Gracias Madre Executive Chef Diana Briscoe | Photo by Talia Dinwiddie/Gracias Madre

“This list of basics helps the home chef create incredible dishes at home and the tools make it fun and easier than doing everything by hand,” Lara explains. “Some of our favorite items that are a must for every kitchen are a zester, garlic roller, a bench scraper and a good cutting board. These are simple tools that are essential to make cooking easier.”

Briscoe recommends using nonstick tools, like plastic or Teflon saute pans, and wood—not metal—spoons with this type of equipment. She says to always have a nice cast-iron pan or wok, which helps intensify the flavors. Also, a handheld immersion blender helps to make salsas, emulsify dressings and puree soups.

Madre Ceviche photo from cookbook_Lisa Romerein
Madre Ceviche from the cookbook | Photo by Lisa Romerein

“Keep your place organized and clean. Start with the basics of a recipe and clean as you go. It’s not only easier, but also prevents accidents,” she explains. “Lastly, be patient. Some of the best dishes take time and attention.”

For some recipe ideas, consider flipping through a cookbook from local restaurants. In addition to the one from Gracias Madre, Tommy Bahama Restaurant, Bar & Store offers four: “Flavors of the Southern Coast,” “Flavors of Aloha,” “Flavors of California” and “The Marlin Bar” cocktail book. And the chefs behind other local restaurants, Rick Bayless of Red O and Deborah Schneider of Sol Mexican Cocina, also have their own cookbooks. Try Schneider’s “Baja! Cooking on the Edge,” “The Mexican Slow Cooker” and “Amor y Tacos,” or sign up for her on-demand cooking video series on craftsy.com. Bayless has six cookbooks available, from “Mexican Everyday” to “Mexico—One Plate at a Time.” And Zov’s, which has a Newport Coast location, offers two cookbooks by chef Zov Karamardian: “Zov: Recipes and Memories From the Heart” and “Simply Zov.”

03 The Marlin Bar - Cocktails with Tommy Bahama Interior Spread
Tommy Bahama Restaurant, Bar & Store also offers cookbooks for those seeking flavors from the islands or the Southern coast. | Photo by Tommy Bahama

And in addition to the in-person classes at Sur La Table, another cooking supply store, Williams Sonoma, offers some cookbooks as well as virtual courses and occasional in-person sessions for step-by-step guidance.


Tips From the Chefs

“To be honest, [cooking] … takes a lot of practice. Learn how to cook by taste and not just reading a recipe,” Lara says. “Recipes are more of a guideline at the home level. This is like anything else in life: It takes practice and experience. Equipment will help and expedite things, but unless you know what it should look, feel, smell, taste or even—at times—sound like, equipment can only help so much.”

Tommy Bahama Flavors of Aloha Cookbook
Tommy Bahama cookbooks | Photo by Tommy Bahama

Lara says be willing to experiment. Tackle one item that is interesting, but intimidating, and focus on completing it. You’ll learn in the process of making it and know how to improve the next time you make it. He also says to remember cooking is a fun and creative process.

Basic techniques are the most important things to learn—and frequent practice will help build those skills. Briscoe says anyone can cook and offers these tips for success: Always buy quality ingredients and remember less is more. Both chefs recommend using fresh ingredients and herbs when cooking at home as the fresh flavors are more intense and extra condiments won’t be necessary.

Flavors Of The Southern Coast Cookbook COVER
“Flavors Of The Southern Coast” cookbook | Photo by Tommy Bahama

Briscoe also suggests opting for a recipe that involves roasting. “It’s an easier way to cook, without sacrificing flavor, because you can prepare other dishes while items are in the oven roasting to perfection in their marinade and juices,” she says. “I always like to make the most out of my time in the kitchen. Whether that’s involving the kids, family [or] friends to cook together, or taking time to myself to relax and cook alone with a nice song and glass of wine.”

Madre Crab Cakes (vegan)

Madre Crab Cakes_credit Lisa Romerein
Vegan Madre Crab Cakes, from the “The Gracias Madre Cookbook” | Photo by Lisa Romerein

“Crab” Cakes

Servings: Makes about 8 cakes

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup corn

2 teaspoons minced onion

2 teaspoons minced red bell pepper

4 shredded whole hearts of palm (in place of crab)

3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs, plus more for breading

1 1/2 teaspoons vegan mayonnaise

1 teaspoon crushed nori (dried edible seaweed)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1/4 teaspoon mustard powder

1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Spicy mayo, for garnish (see recipe below)

Lemon wedges, for garnish

To make the crab cakes, heat oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add corn, onion and red pepper and cook for 5 minutes, or until just tender. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and pulse to form a coarse puree.

In a large bowl, combine corn mixture, hearts of palm, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, nori, parsley, Old Bay seasoning, mustard powder, salt and pepper.   

On a large plate, place a generous layer of breadcrumbs. Line another plate with parchment. Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, scoop out portions of the crab cake mixture, flatten slightly and dredge in breadcrumbs. Add a thin layer of oil to a large nonstick or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, and fry crab cakes until golden, about 2 minutes per side.

Top each crab cake with a tablespoon or two of spicy mayo (see recipe below) and sprinkle cilantro on top. Serve with lemon wedges.


Spicy Mayo

Servings: Makes about 1 cup

1 cup vegan mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons salsa negra (see recipe below)

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, garlic, salsa negra, lemon juice and salt until smooth and combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.


Salsa Negra

Servings: Makes about 1 1/2 cups

25 habanero peppers

4 ounces garlic cloves (about 40 cloves)

1/2 medium onion, cut into wedges, layers separated

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons white vinegar

1 tablespoon Himalayan salt

Preheat broiler and line baking sheet with aluminum foil. To make the salsa negra, arrange habaneros, garlic and onion pieces in an even layer on the baking sheet. Broil on the rack closest to the broiler for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn vegetables as they char, then return to the broiler. Broil until fully blackened on all sides, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a high-speed blender and add oil, vinegar and salt. Blend until smooth. Refrigerate in a sealed container for up to one week. 
Courtesy of Gracias Madre; adapted from “The Gracias Madre Cookbook”

Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage Sauce and Butternut Squash

Servings: 4



2 pounds russet potatoes

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour

2 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Pierce potatoes all over with a fork. Place potatoes onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake in the oven until tender, about 1 hour. Carefully peel potatoes and immediately process with a potato ricer or food mill. Spread evenly on a clean flat surface.

Using a fine-mesh strainer, dust potatoes evenly with flour. Drizzle eggs and salt over potatoes and knead for about 2 minutes, or until you have smooth, cohesive dough. If the dough feels sticky, incorporate up to another 1/4 cup of cake flour. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rest for 20 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Place dough on a lightly-floured work surface and cut into quarters with a bench scraper. Roll each portion into a long rope, about 3/4 inches in diameter. Using the bench scraper or a knife, cut the rope into 3/4-inch pieces. Set the cut gnocchi on a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with a kitchen towel as you form the rest.

Add gnocchi in batches to simmering water and cook until they float to the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer cooked dumplings to a skillet with the sauce (see recipe below), gently stirring to coat with butter and sage. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Transfer dumplings to warmed shallow pasta bowls or a large-rimmed serving platter; garnish generously with grated cheese and serve immediately.


Brown Butter Sauce and Butternut Squash

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2 cups cubed (1/4-inch pieces) butternut squash

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh sage leaves

To prepare the sauce, add 2 tablespoons of butter to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. When butter melts, add squash, season with salt and pepper, and saute until caramelized and tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer squash to a plate. Return skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining butter. Melt butter, stirring occasionally, until the milk solids turn golden brown and the butter takes on a nutty aroma. Stir in the sherry vinegar and sage. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Fold in squash and reduce heat to low. Serve sauce on the gnocchi.
Courtesy of Sur La Table

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