Creamy Broccoli and Fennel Soup with Cheddar, Gruyere and Crispy Onions

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Spring is here!  What a wondrous and renewing season it is.  Wait, that was a couple of weeks ago, Mother Nature seems to have other plans and has brought back the biting cold weather reminiscent of winter.  What a cruel, cruel, joke!  Yesterday I was so cold, with the wind and rain whipping outside of my window, all I craved was something warm to fill my belly.  So, soup was naturally a perfect choice for our dinner.

I remember when I tried Broccoli and Cheddar soup for the first time.  It was magical.  It was sublime.  It probably had no real broccoli OR cheddar in it.  I still love it though, but have now realized how easy and healthier it is to make at home.  My version has fewer calories too, because I swap full fat cream for 2% milk and a little bit of cornstarch to thicken it.  I added some fennel to make it sing, and I love topping soup with crispy things, mine with french fried onions, but you can use whatever your heart desires!  Silky, delicious, and filling, what more could you want?

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a small onion, chopped

2 tbsp of fresh fennel tops, chopped

1 small head of broccoli, chopped

1 cube vegetable stock

1 tsp salt

2 cups water

3 cups 2% milk

1 tbsp instant cornstarch

3/4 cup grated white cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Crispy onions (or whatever you want)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot over medium high heat, add the olive oil.  Add the onion, fennel tops and broccoli, sauté for about 8 minutes or until soft.  Add the vegetable stock, salt, water and milk and lower heat to medium low.  Cook for about 20 minutes.

Take off heat and let cool for about 10 minutes before processing.  Place soup in a blender and pulse, for less time if you want it chunky.  I wanted mine smooth, so I pulsed for about 45 seconds.

Return to stock pot, add the cornstarch and reheat for about 2 more minutes.  Add the cheeses and stir.  Serve into bowls and top with a little more cheese, crispy onions and freshly ground pepper.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese and Cilantro Vinaigrette

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When I had my restaurant in Barcelona, vacation was something that I had to do quickly and closely.  For me, the best place to make me relax and feel transported without travelling too far was Ibiza.  Ibiza is only 30 minutes by plane from Barcelona, but it is worlds apart.  It is what you make it, you can party all night and day, or you can relax with your family.  I chose the latter, obviously.  But one place I really loved and still do, is Jockey Club.  It is a beach bar restaurant, and my favorite thing to do is get there early, grab some beach chairs and spend all day lounging by the crystal clear waters, and listening to some fabulous music.  The food is pretty amazing, but I would always order their lentil salad with a bottle of Enate Rosado, a spanish Rosé wine.  I don’t get to go to Ibiza as often as I wish now, but I do try to recreate their lentil salad at home.  I change it often, but never their 3 key ingredients: black beluga lentils, bacon and cheese.  They use goat cheese, but you can substitute any soft cheese you have at home.  This salad is very quick and easy to make, but it is incredibly decadent, so if you serve it as an appetizer at a dinner party you can´t go wrong!  I personally love it, and tonight I used the veggies I had in my fridge.  You can substitute what you like, but this version is absolutely fantastic, I really really recommend you try it!  Also, you can omit the bacon and chicken stock if you are vegetarian, and it will still taste delicious.

Serves 4

1/2 cup black beluga lentils (or puy lentils if you can’t find these)

1 garlic clove, with skin

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup olive oil

1 small eggplant, cut in 1 inch cubes

1/2 small yellow pepper, cut into 1 inch dice

1/2 small green tomato, diced

1/4 cup bacon, sliced

2 tbsp blue cheese, crumbled

For the cilantro vinaigrette:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp white wine vinegar

1 small bunch cilantro, minced

1 garlic clove, smashed and minced

1 tsp whole grain Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

6-7 leaves of Romaine lettuce or Frisee lettuce, washed and chopped

In a medium stock pot, place the chicken stock, bay leaf and garlic to boil.  When boiling, add the lentils and cook for 15 minutes.  Strain and set aside to cool.

In a large sauté pan, over high heat, add the olive oil.  Fry the bacon and eggplant until golden, about 7-10 minutes, stirring constantly.  Strain over paper towels.

Mix all the ingredients for the vinaigrette, shake well.

In a large bowl, place the lentils, bacon, eggplant, yellow pepper, tomato and blue cheese.  Add about 2 tbsp of the vinaigrette, mix well.

To serve, place the lettuce in a salad bowl, then top with the lentils.  Drizzle half a tbsp over the lettuce, enjoy!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Leek, Bacon, and Mushroom Quiche

Quiche with leeks, bacon and mushrooms

 

quiche with leeks, bacon and mushroom

 

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Last night around 10 pm, I remembered that I had invited a friend over for lunch……uh oh.  I had completely forgotten, and didn’t have anything in mind or ready to prepare.  So I looked in my fridge and pantry……and voila!  I love that you can make a Quiche out of basically anything.  Just as long as you have the mains, which are flour, eggs, cream and cheese, it doesn’t matter what the fillings are.  I think that it’s versatility has made it a mainstay in my house!.  So these were the ingredients I had in my pantry and fridge, but feel free to swap any of the ingredients for the ones you have on hand.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

For the crust:

250g all-purpose flour

150g butter, chilled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 tsp salt

1 egg

1 tbsp cold milk

For the filling:

1 leek, halved and thinly sliced

2 slices bacon, julienned

1 small can sliced mushrooms, drained

1 egg

3 egg yolks

300ml heavy cream

1 1/2 cups Emmenthal (swiss cheese), grated

1 tsp salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

pinch of nutmeg

 

In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, and butter, mix with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse sand.  Add the egg and milk, and mix with your hands until it forms a ball.  Flatten it with your hand into a disk, and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, make the filling.  Saute the leeks and bacon together over low heat for about 10 minutes until soft and bacon is cooked but not crispy.  Let cool.  In a large bowl, mix the cream, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Add the leek mixture, and half of the grated cheese.  Mix well and set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 190C (375F), take dough out of the fridge and place on a counter dusted with flour.  Roll out the dough into a disk that is about 2mm thick.  Place in a buttered tart or springform pan, cover with plastic and refrigerate for another 20 minutes.

Take the dough out, and with a fork pinch all over.  Cover with parchment paper and place pie weights or beans in the pan.  Cook in the oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 170C (350F) and remove the parchment and pie weights, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Take out of the oven, and sprinkle the remaining cheese onto the bottom of the crust, and then add the filling mixture.  Cook for about 25-30 minutes, or until it is set but still has a slight wobble.  Let cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.  Serve with a green salad and basic vinaigrette!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Arista di Maiale Al Rosmarino – Pork with Rosemary

Pork with Rosemary

 

This is recipe no. 3 from our “Italy, The Beautiful Cookbook” challenge.  My husband chose this one, and I am so glad he did.  Insanely simple, with incredibly familiar ingredients, this too, was a winner. The book says that this recipe is from Tuscany, but I am sure there are versions of this from every region in Italy.

I love rosemary.  Rosemary is one of my favorite cooking herbs, thus I have an incredibly large bush on my balcony, and apart from using it in the kitchen, it smells divine.  I think my favorite part is when I’m picking the leaves off the stem, and its sap imparts its beautiful, medicine-like aroma.  During the cooking process your kitchen will smell incredible too, with all that delicious garlic and rosemary!  After the pork is done, you finish the sauce with a nice, dry white wine.  Classic Italian cooking, simple ingredients creating a masterful and superb dish.  Easy enough for a weeknight if you have time, perfect for a Sunday roast, too.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

1 fresh rosemary sprig

6 garlic cloves, crushed

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 chine of pork, about 2 1/2 lbs (1.25kg)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

1/2 cup (4 fl oz/ 125ml) dry white wine

Finely chop the rosemary leaves.  Mix rosemary and garlic with salt and plenty of pepper.  Rub the meat well with this mixture and tie it securely to the bone.  Place the meat in a dutch oven or aluminum saucepan with the oil and butter.  Bake in a preheated oven at 400F (200C) for 1 1/2 hours, turning frequently.

Untie the meat and remove the bone.  Arrange meat in slices on a serving dish.  Pour wine into the pan and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits and season to taste.  Serve this sauce with the meat.

Serves 6

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

 

Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day.  Happy Valentine’s Day!  I think chocolate is a must-do today, right?  I made these biscotti to take to a coffee for an international group here, where we were all advised to take something sweet or savory, wear red, and bring a gift.  Of course, there were all sorts of treats on hand, but I am quite happy that no one brought anymore biscotti.

I personally love biscotti, which in Italy they are actually called Cantuccini, since biscotti just means cookie.  I have been making them since times immemorial, I think since I was 16 or so, for my mother’s bridge games.  Rarely do I make them with chocolate though, since I find them harder to pair with dessert wines.  Alas, the chocolate tradition won over today, so I naturally decided to pair them with hazelnuts, since all things that resemble nutella are delicious in my book.

I really like these biscotti because not only are they incredibly chocolatey, I don’t use any fats like butter or oil so they are not sooooo damaging to your waistline!  If you can, try to use some high quality chocolate, such as Valrhona, since the main ingredient is chocolate!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Makes about 30 biscotti (Adapted from the New York Times Recipe)

1/2 cup whole toasted hazelnuts

1 1/4 cups four

1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder

pinch of salt

3/4 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs

3/4 cups sugar

2 tbsp sanding sugar

1 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).  In a large bowl, sift together the flour, chocolate, salt and baking powder, set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the eggs and sugar, beat on medium speed until just mixed.  Reserve one tbsp of the egg mix in a small bowl.

Add the dry ingredients, a little at a time, and beat on low-speed until just incorporated.  Fold in the hazelnuts.

Form into a log shape, about 18 inches long and 3 inches wide, and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Brush on the egg mix you set aside, dust with sanding sugar and the black pepper.

Place in the oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes, or firm.  Take out and let cool for 5 minutes before cutting into diagonal slices, 1 inch thick, with a sharp serrated knife.  Place back on the cookie sheet, on their side, and cook for another 15-20 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack, and they can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

Lentil and Chorizo Stew

Lentil and Chorizo Stew

Yesterday my baby girl was home sick with a tummy bug, which incidentally I caught, so I decided to make her a clear broth.  I had some chicken and ham bones in the fridge, plus loads of veggies, and I always have some herbs and spices on hand, so it was easy-going.  Today she is feeling much better, and I put that delicious stock to good use.  Lentils-  I love lentils, having grown up eating it almost every week.  In Colombia our grains are usually accompanied with white rice, but here in Spain, lentils are eaten as a dish on its own.  That is what I was going for today, swapping my usual “latino” herbs and spices for some more “mediterranean” ones.  Oh, and let’s not forget the chorizo……no lentil dish worth its name would be without it here, since pork is king!

Lentil and Chorizo Stew

I love the chorizo in the lentils, it gives it a warmth and depth that really isn’t achieved with in our Colombian counterpart; at least in my home our lentils were more of the vegetarian variety.   Also, I added some smoked sweet “pimenton” to give it that extra smoky kick!  Adding the chorizo and pimenton makes this more of a one plate meal, no accompaniment needed, and as the weather cools down, it definitely warms your belly too!

So here’s what you’re going to need”

4 cups dark stock (recipe below)

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1/2 green pepper, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 carrot, chopped

1/4 cup chorizo, cubed

1 tsp smoked sweet pimenton or paprika

1 cup Pardina lentils, or Lentilles du Puy (french lentils)

2 bay leaves

1 sprig of thyme

Salt and Pepper, to taste

In a medium sauté pan, add the olive oil and warm it up over medium low heat.  Add the onion and green pepper, and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and tomato paste, and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add the carrot, chorizo and pimenton, stirring and cook for another 2 minutes.

In the meantime, in a dutch oven or medium stockpot, bring your stock to a boil.  When boiling, add the vegetables, lentils, bay leaves and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper, and cook over high heat for 10 minutes.  Lower the heat to medium low, and simmer for another 35 minutes or until the lentils are fully cooked and it has slightly thickened.  Serve with fresh crusty bread and enjoy!

For the Stock:

This is a go to stock recipe that can be used as a broth, or base for other food preparations.  This makes about 6 cups, and feel free to swap some of the vegetables and herbs for what you have on hand.  The most important part is the cooking time so it really develops some flavor.

Makes about 6 cups of stock

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

1 leek, sliced

3 shallots, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 celery sticks plus some leaves, sliced

1 large tomato, diced

1 cup cabbage, diced

1 tbsp tomato paste

Chicken bones and neck

3 ham bones

8 cups water

2 sprigs of sage, roughly chopped

2 sprigs of thyme

3 bay leaves

1 tsp black peppercorns

Salt, to taste

In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat.  Add the leek, shallots, carrot, celery, tomato and cabbage, cook for about 15 minutes, until softened.  Raise heat to high, add the tomato paste and your bones, stirring constantly to incorporate the paste.  Add the water and the rest of the ingredients.  Boil for about 10 minutes, and then lower heat to medium high, and cook for another 40 minutes.  Turn off heat, and cover to let the flavors meld for another 20 minutes.

Strain through a chinois, and return to the dutch oven.  If you want a very clear broth, like consome, then when the stock is simmering, add 2 scrambled egg whites to the stock, and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.  Remove the egg whites, this picks up all the impurities and leaves you with a crystalline broth.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Penne with Smoked Salmon and Vodka Cream Sauce

 

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Hi fellow friends and bloggers, it has been a loooong time since I updated my blog!  For good reason though, this summer has been crazy busy.  In June I married my amazing fiancé and then embarked on our honeymoon to Asia!  What a wild ride, I wish I could do it all over again, but alas, my child needs schooling and so all good things must come to an end.

It’s been 8 months since we moved to Madrid, and that also has been super crazy, making new friends, my daughter is in a new school, hubby in a new job……and me, well I have a new blog!  From now on, all my sweet baking confections will be on San Luis Baking Co.  I hope you enjoy and visit!

So, for our recipe.  Another new adventure has been my potted tomato plants.  We eat tomatoes like they go out of style, but most importantly, my hubs and used to go crazy because finding Italian tomato varieties here is close to impossible.  On one trip to Italy, I bought three types of tomatoes, Pacchino Cherry, which is an heirloom from Sicily, small, but sweet as sugar; San Marzano, which hails from Campania (around Naples, Italy) and is one of the best varieties to make sauce; and Costoluto Fiorentino, which is a large heirloom from Tuscany which makes for a killer salad tomato!  I harvested the seeds, planted in the beginning of May, and voila! This has been my first foray into tomato gardening, and it has had its ups and downs, but I am amazed at the yield that I have had!  So our recipe today includes my cherry tomatoes, straight from the vine.  I know most of us don’t have tomatoes at home, so try to find the ripest, sweetest cherry tomatoes to make this dish.  The tomatoes’ acidity balances well with the mellow cream, and the smokiness of the salmon pairs perfectly in this dish, it’s a winner!

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So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 3-4

300g Penne Pasta

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp chili flakes

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup Vodka

200 ml heavy cream

100 g smoked salmon, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp fresh Italian parsley, minced

In a large stockpot, put water and 1 tbsp salt to boil.  In a medium sauté pan over medium low heat, add the olive oil.  When hot, add the chili flakes and the garlic.  Cook until fragrant, about 4 minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn.  Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes.  Add the cherry tomatoes, salt and a 1/4 cup of water, and lower the heat to low.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the water has evaporated by half.

Raise the heat to high, and add the vodka and carefully light to flambe; to burn off all the alcohol.  Lower the heat to a minimum, and add the cream and stir.  Take off the heat and add the salmon, pepper and give it a good stir.  Set aside.

Cook the pasta according to package directions.  When it is done, strain all but a tbsp of the water, and toss it in the pan with your sauce.  Raise the heat on your pan, and cook on high for about 2 minutes, until all the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce.  Sprinkle with the parsley, and serve immediately.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla