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

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

Cotoletta alla Milanese or Wiener Schnitzel

Cotoletta alla Milanese

 

Tomayto, tomaahto……let’s NOT call the whole thing off.  Which ever way you call it, it’s delicious.  The difference between the two dishes is minimal, in Austria, it is generally fried in butter, and in Italy in olive oil.  I prefer the Italian version, not because it is tastier, but mainly because it is healthier.  Either way, this is one of my favorite go-to dinners.  Super easy and quick, it marries perfectly with a simple arugula (rocket) and parmesan salad with a lemon -olive oil vinaigrette.

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If you are pressed for time, but are craving something sinful and filling, this may become your go-to dinner too!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 3

3 thin veal or beef cutlets, trimmed of fat

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

2 cups plain breadcrumbs

1/2 olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 150C.  Salt and pepper the cutlets, and in one bowl add the eggs, milk, Parmigiano and some more salt and pepper; mix well.  In another bowl add the breadcrumbs.  Place them side by side.

Dip your cutlet into the egg mix, and then in the breadcrumbs.  Pat the breadcrumbs in well.  Dip again in the egg mix, letting most drip off, and then dip back in to the breadcrumbs and pat them well, until slightly dried.  Place on a tray and repeat with the rest of the cutlets.

In a large, non-stick frying pan, add the olive oil; heat to medium.  When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the cutlet and fry for about 4 minutes, turn and fry for 4 minutes more.  Place on a heat proof plate in the hot oven while you fry the rest.

Serve with a side salad or potatoes if you’re really hungry!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

Pesce al Acqua Pazza – Sea Bream in “Crazy Water” Sauce

Pesce al Aqua Pazza

Acqua Pazza is probably one of my favorite styles of baking fish.  I tried it in Positano for the first time, and I was so enthralled with it, it completely embodies what you want to eat in summer in the Mediterranean.

Acqua Pazza literally means, crazy water.  I guess the crazy part is that it has just a touch of chili pepper, but if that’s what crazy means, I am totally “loco” over it!

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Super simple to make, it will literally take you all of 40 minutes to make this.  Most of the ingredients you will probably have in your pantry already, all you need is some delicious super fresh fish.  We decided on this beautiful Red Sea Bream, very typical here in Spain.

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Easy enough for a weeknight meal, but spectacular for an early lunch now that the weather is warming up!   I hope you try it, cause I am sure you will be hooked too!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

1  2kg whole firm fleshed white fish, such as Corvina, Snapper, Sea Bream, or Sea Bass.  Ask your fishmonger to clean it for you.

Salt and Pepper, to taste

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp chili pepper flakes

1/2 large onion, sliced

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp capers

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp lemon juice

Lemon slices, for garnish

Pre heat the oven to 200 C.  Wash the fish thoroughly, inside and out.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in a large baking dish.  Set aside.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the chili pepper, onion, and garlic, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the cherry tomatoes and raise the heat to high, stirring.  Add the white wine and capers, and cook for another 5 minutes, or until super fragrant.  Take off heat and add the 1/4 cup water and lemon juice.  Let cool for about 5 minutes, and pour over fish, add the lemon slices to the top.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, serve immediately.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Saveur Magazine Classic Recipes No.59- General Tso’s Chicken

General Tso's Chicken

As a child, every Friday night we would go to a Chinese restaurant with my father’s side of the family.  Nothing gave my father more pleasure than to order half the menu.  Of course, we would get the round table with the lazy susan, so no one had to really stretch that far to have all the different options he had ordered.  I, usually just ate a bowl of steamed peas or sautéed mushrooms.  Silly me. It wasn’t until I was about 10 that I discovered this dish, tangy, crispy, spicy and sweet all the same, I fell in love.

After moving to Spain, one of the things that I miss the most about living in the States, is good Chinese take out.  We do have Chinese take out, but it is nothing in comparison to the variety that we have back home.  It is such a shame, most of the time it all comes in a pool of its own oil, making everything soggy, bland and basically inedible.

So I was really happy to see that Saveur had included this recipe into their classics.  It took me a while to make, because finding the right ingredients here is quite difficult.  I still haven’t found somewhere close by to my house where I can buy them, but for this occasion I made an effort.  The only thing I couldn’t find were scallions.  Even in Barcelona they were hard to get!

So, on to the recipe.  I loved it.  Obviously less sweet than the restaurant version, this one was more tangy and it had such a great consistency.  Not overly spicy, which shocked me due to the amount of chili peppers I threw in, but that was great.  My family doesn’t tolerate spiciness as much as I do.  Surprisingly, my daughter was the one who enjoyed it the most.  Always the picky one, she even asked me to pack it up for lunch at school the next day.  My fiancé, however, not so much.  He hasn’t been exposed to the amount of Chinese food as I have, so his taste buds aren’t used to the complex flavours of this type of cuisine.  Nonetheless, it was delicious and a success!

Rankings:

Overall points: 7.6/10

Difficulty: Easy

Availability of Ingredients:  Easy for my American counterparts, a little harder for continental Europeans

Recipe:

1 cup plus 2 tbsp. chicken stock

7 tbsp. cornstarch

6 tbsp. rice vinegar

6 tbsp. tomato paste

5 tbsp. light soy sauce

4 1/2 tsp dark sou sauce

2 1/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2 in cubes

3 1/2 cups plus 9 tbsp. peanut oil

3 egg yolks

2 tbsp. minced ginger

2 tbsp. minced garlic

16 chiles de arbol

2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil

Thinly slice scallions, to garnish ( I used leeks)

1. Whisk stock, 1 tbsp cornstarch, vinegar, tomato paste, 3 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 tbsp dark soy sauce, and 3 tbsp water in a bowl; set aside.

2. Place remaining cornstarch and both soy sauces, chicken, 3 tbsp peanut oil, and egg yolks in a bowl; toss.  Pour 3 1/2 cups peanut oil in a 14″ flat-bottomed wok; heat over med-high heat until a deep fry thermometer reads 375 degrees.  Working in batches, add chicken; fry, tossing, until cooked through, about 4 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels; set aside.  Discard oil; wipe wok clean.

3. Return wok to high heat, and add remaining peanut oil.  Add ginger, garlic, and chiles; fry, stirring constantly, until fragrant and chiles begin to change color, about 30 seconds.  Add reserved sauce; cook until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.  Add chicken; fry, tossing constantly, until evenly coated with sauce, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat; stir in sesame oil.  Transfer to a serving plate; top with scallions.  Serves 2-3.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Blackberry and Cornmeal Muffins

Blackberry and Cornmeal Muffins

 

It’s been one of those weeks.  A pipe burst in our apartment, and we have had severe damage to our floors and walls.  Nothing like inept handymen sent by your landlord to further make a mess of the situation.  Apart from that, it’s been rainy, cold, and I’m kind of homesick.

That means it’s time for me to get baking, and make some feel good treats for breakfast so I can get my butt to the gym, whenever these lovely men think they’ll finish making holes in our floor!

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This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes cookbook.  I love the taste of blackberries, but don’t really enjoy eating them raw.  They are way too grainy and seedy for me, and store-bought always seem to be incredibly tart!  I always dream of walking through some field, and picking them off their bush, and taste the sweet ripeness that only the sun can provide.  Alas, the only time I have had contact with any wild blackberries is when my daughter brought back silk worms from school as a project.  I had no idea that they only ate blackberry leaves, so I had to hunt out a tree and pick the leaves so they wouldn’t die.  Even though I ABHOR any type of worm.  But, I just can’t let a living thing die, disgusting or not.

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Today we found an array of berries at the market, and I love me some blueberries for breakfast, but picked these up thinking I would make the muffins I saw in Martha’s book.  Brought them home, picked up the book, read the recipe and then realized I don’t have any cornmeal.  I only had Arepa flour.  (Arepas are Colombian cornmeal patties- delicious!)  Even though in Martha’s book it stated for cornmeal, I swapped it in, lessening the amount of sugar that the recipe originally called for.  The Arepa flour that I have has some sugar already in the mix.  I didn’t want them to be overly sweet, either, and I wanted to be able to taste the tartness I find unappealing in the raw berries.  It worked perfectly.  Nice and cornbread like, soft, fluffy, and moist, berries bursting when you take a bite.  Definite “picker upper” on a cold rainy day!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Adapted from Martha Stewart Cupcakes

Makes 12-16 muffins

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup fine ground yellow cornmeal

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature

2 large eggs, room temperature

7 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

1 -2 containers (6 oz each) fresh blackberries

1. Preheat oven to 375 F (190C).  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and 1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar.  In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs and melted butter, pour over flour mixture, whisking to combine.

2.  Fill each lined cup with a scant 1/4 cup batter.  Top batter with blackberries (3-4 berries per cup), then sprinkle evenly with remaining sugar.

3.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until evenly browned on top, 20- to 25 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before removing muffins.  They are best eaten the day they are baked, but will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla