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Friday, March 27, 2015

Cardoon in Marcona Almond Sauce

The cardoon is a thistle-like plant in the same family as the artichoke. It is a flowering plant characterized by leaves with sharp prickles all over. Cardoon is native to the Mediterranean countries where it has been cultivated since ancient times. It is considered by some an invasive weed and by others a culinary delight!

Cardoons are only edible when cooked. I like to boil them for 20 minutes before pairing them with the right sauce.

In Spain and Portugal the flower buds are used in cheese making: the pistils are used as a vegetable rennet in the making of some cheeses like the Torta del Casar.

Because of their seasonality, usually harvested from November to February, cardoons are a staple of the Christmas dinner in Spain and Italy.

It is not easy to find cardoon nowadays, that is why every time I see cardoons in the store I buy them. If you love vegetables it is really worth it to try. Its unique flavor and texture pairs really well with shrimp and clams. Today I am making the vegetarian version with Marcona almonds, the gourmet almond from Spain.


Serves 4

2 medium cardoon bunches
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup marcona almonds
1/2 cup parsley
1 shallot (minced)
2 garlic cloves (skin-on)
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

Peel and cut the cardoons: Using disposable gloves, trim off any leaves or thorns and peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler to remove fibers. Because cardoons will discolor when cut, place cut pieces in cold water with a splash of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. Cut the cardoons in half lengthwise and then cut them in 2-inch pieces crosswise.

Boil the cardoon: Fill a large pan with water and bring to a boil. Add salt and cardoon. Boil over medium heat until tender (about 20 minutes). Reserve 1 cup of cooking water. Drain, do not rinse and reserve.

Prepare the sauce: Heat a deep sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic cloves and shallots. Cook for 2 minutes.
In a mortar and pestle add garlic cloves (peeled), almonds and parsley. Crush and grind into a fine paste. Transfer almond paste to sauté pan and cook over medium-low heat stirring often for 3-4 minutes. Add flour and cook 1 more minute. Add 3/4 cup of reserved cooking water and cook for 2 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble: Add cooked cardoon to almond sauce and cook for 1-2 minutes.


Frittata with Asparagus, Scallions, Shiitaki Mushrooms and Fontina Cheese

Frittata is an egg based dish similar to an omelette or crustless quiche enriched with veggies, cheese and dairy. It is delicious hot or cold, for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. It is a low-difficulty dish and all the equipment you will need is one skillet that will go from the stovetop to the oven.
In this frittata I am using spring vegetables together with crème fraîche and Fontina cheese. You may substitute the veggies or the dairy for the ones you have handy.

Tips: It is important to use the right pan. You will need an oven-safe non-stick skillet since your frittata will finish cooking in the oven. I used a 12 inch skillet; however, if you are using a smaller pan your frittata will be thicker and might take longer to cook. On the contrary, if you are making a smaller frittata it will cook quicker, just keep an eye on it.

The frittata will appear to be mostly liquid on top when you transfer it to the oven, but as long as the edges start to sit, the eggs will finish cooking evenly.

Never overcook your frittata. Check your frittata 5 minutes before it is supposed to be done. Frittata should be trembling and barely set.

For a crispy top, run the frittata under the broiler for a minute or two at the end of cooking.


Serves 4-6

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10-12 shiitaki mushrooms (sliced)
1 bunch green asparagus (sliced)
2 bunches scallions (sliced)
8 large eggs
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley (chopped)
3/4 cup Fontina cheese (shredded)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook for 4 minutes stirring occasionally; transfer to plate.
Add one tablespoon of olive oil and cook asparagus and scallions over medium heat stirring often until tender (about 6 minutes). Add mushrooms to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile whisk eggs, crème fraîche, parsley and 1/2 cup of shredded Fontina in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and pour the egg mixture over veggies, shaking the pan to evenly distribute mixture. Reduce heat to low and simmer, without stirring, until edges begin to set, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Fontina over eggs and transfer skillet to oven. Bake frittata until golden brown and center is set, about 20 minutes.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Salmon and Arugula Sandwich Wrap

This is a super easy, fuss-free sandwich wrap for lunch. I like it because it is super easy to make and very healthy; I find it a great choice for a lunchbox! I like to add arugula in micro-greens form which has a peppery flavor that pairs very well with the marinated salmon. In case you are wondering what micro-greens are, they are tiny vegetables that are smaller than baby greens and are harvested later than sprouts. You can find many types of micro-greens today like, basil, broccoli, cabbage, celery, kale, etc... It is rumored that they pack higher level of nutrients than their adult versions.


Makes one wrap

1 whole wheat sandwich wrap
3 slices of cured salmon (about 3 oz.)
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon of powdered horseradish (wasabi)
1/2 avocado (thinly sliced)
1/2 cup of micro-greens arugula

Place wrap in a cutting board. Mix sour cream and wasabi and spread the wrap leaving a 1-inch border. Continue to add a layer of salmon, avocado and arugula. Fold two sides of wrap over filing, then roll tightly ending seam side down. Slice in half.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Torrijas (Spanish Style French Toast)

Torrija is a traditional dessert of Lent and Holy Week in Spain. It was born a long time ago as a way to make good use of bread that was no longer fresh. Paradoxically, today we buy a special bread to make torrijas.

As with French Toasts, a slice of bread is soaked in milk, dipped in egg and fried in olive oil. It is then topped with cinnamon and sugar or with honey. There are many variations of torrijas like the ones that are soaked in wine instead of milk.

The typical bread used would be a French-style baguette, however sweeter breads can be used like challah or brioche. In my recipe I am using challah bread, a Jewish braided bread, since it is sweet and has a soft crust.

Torrijas should be eaten at room temperature as a dessert, breakfast or simply as a snack with a coffee or tea. They are at their best the same day you make them, but if you have any leftovers they would be great the next day too.

The best part is I only make them around this time of the year, once Holy Week is over my family has to wait one more year to eat torrijas, it is a long wait for my kids!!


Serves 6

3/4 of a challah bread
4 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons sugar
zest of one lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs (beaten)

Sprinkle with:
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cut the challah bread in half lengthwise, then slice each half in 1-inch wide pieces. Put the sliced bread in one single layer in a deep pan. I use about 3/4 of one challah bread since that yields enough torrijas. If you are making the entire challah, you should add 1 more cup of milk and one more tablespoon of sugar for the milk.

In a deep pan heat the milk, sugar and lemon zest. When the milk is about to boil pour over the sliced bread and let stand for about 1 hour.

In a deep sauté pan heat the olive oil. Dip the bread in the egg and cook over medium heat until golden brown flipping once (about 1 minute on each side).

Stir together sugar and cinnamon. Transfer to a serving platter and immediately sprinkle with the sugar-cinnamon mixture or with honey.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Piquillo Peppers Filled with Halibut and Shrimp

These stuffed piquillo peppers are a must if you are having a tapas party. Piquillo peppers are often stuffed with meat, seafood or veggies and served as tapas in Spain. If you need more tapas recipes, please take a look at my other posts:

Spanish Omelette
Tuna in Escabeche
Curried Meatballs with Basmati Rice, Raisins and Pine Nuts

Long time ago, Columbus brought the first peppers to Europe from South America. These peppers, once planted in Spain, developed their own characteristics and turned into native Spanish varieties.
The name piquillo means "little beak", as this small red peppers are shaped like the beak of a bird. The peppers are about 3 to 4 inches long and about 1 inch wide narrowing to a slightly curved point at the end.

Traditionally piquillo peppers are grown in Northern Spain and are hand picked and roasted over open fires. The peppers are then peeled and de-seeded by hand and packed in their own juices into jars or cans for sale. They are bright red and have a sweet and tangy flavor; they are very tender, yet firm. Piquillo peppers can be prepared in a variety of ways: in salads, as a side dish, in sauces or stuffed with meat, seafood or veggies.

For best quality piquillo peppers look for the Designation of Origin "Lodosa". Lodosa is a village in Navarra, Spain, where the peppers are hand picked only once a year from September to November. They are produced almost entirely by hand using no chemicals in the roasting or peeling process.

You can purchase piquillo peppers in gourmet stores in the US. If you prefer to buy them online, here are a couple of choices:

Piquillo peppers from Spain

Organic piquillo peppers from Spain

Piquillo peppers from Lodosa, Spain (Designation of Origin) Best quality

Make sure to buy whole peppers, not the sliced kind. Reserve broken peppers that cannot be stuffed for the sauce we will be making to accompany the stuffed peppers.


Serves 6 (about 20 stuffed peppers)

25-30 whole piquillo peppers
2 cups whole milk (warm)
3/4 cup all purpose flour (divided: 1/2 cup for the filling; 1/4 cup for the batter)
1/2 stick butter
2 shallots (minced and divided 1/2 for the filling and 1/2 for the sauce)
1 lb shrimp (peeled, deveined and finely chopped)
1/2 lb halibut
grated nutmeg
1/2 cup plus 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs (beaten)
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
3 tablespoons creme fraiche

Prepare the filling: Heat a deep sauté pan add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and shallots, cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add chopped shrimp and halibut in one piece. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until shrimp is cooked through (about 4 minutes). Remove shrimp and reserve. Flip halibut and cook for 3 more minutes; start to break halibut with a spatula and cook until well done. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

Prepare bechamel sauce: Using the same pan, melt the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir 1/2 cup of flour until smooth. Continue stirring and cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium and gradually add the milk whisking constantly until well incorporated and thickened; cook for two more minutes stirring constantly. Season with salt and grated nutmeg. Add the halibut-shrimp mix and stir to combine.

Stuff the piquillo peppers: Select 20 peppers; carefully spread them open and spoon shrimp filling into them.

Hold pepper like this to easily spoon shrimp filling into it.

Batter and fry peppers: Place remaining 1/4 cup of flour and two beaten eggs in two shallow bowls. Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Dredge the stuffed pepper in flour, roll in beaten egg and fry, turning once, until lightly golden brown (about 1 minute on each side). Transfer to a dish lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.

Prepare the sauce: Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in skillet, add shallots and cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Add 5-8 piquillo peppers, its  and the tomato sauce. Cook for 3 minutes. Transfer to a blender and add creme fraiche. Season with salt and pepper. Blend on low until smooth.

You can make the peppers and sauce ahead and then reheat in the oven or microwave when ready to eat. Serve with a dollop of sauce.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Soba Noodles with Spring Vegetables and Teriyaki Sauce

Soba noodles are made of buckwheat flour and can be prepared in various hot and cold dishes. Soba dishes are very popular in Japan, available from specialty restaurants to fast food places at railway stations. Soba noodles are available in dried form in U.S. supermarkets.

Contrary to its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat, nor it is a cereal grain. It is a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel, making it a suitable substitute for grains for people who are sensitive to wheat or other grains that contain protein glutens. Therefore, it is both gluten-free and grain-free! Always check the packaging on soba noodles to make sure no other flours are added if you follow a 100% gluten or grain free diet.

Since spring is finally here, I prepared this dish with spring veggies and then added a homemade teriyaki sauce. This dish is extremely easy to make and will be ready in 20 minutes or less. Your homemade teriyaki sauce will take a little longer to cook, but you can make it ahead and refrigerate until ready to use.


Serves 4

For noodles with veggies 1 tablespoon canola oil
2 garlic cloves (peeled and sliced)
5 slices fresh ginger
1 bunch green asparagus (washed and cut into 1-inch pieces)
2 bunches scallions (washed and cut into 1-inch pieces)
1/2 cup peas
8 oz. soba noodles

For teriyaki sauce:
1 cup mirin (Japanese rice wine)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup soy sauce

Cook noodles in a pot of salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, about 8 minutes. Drain and  rinse noodles under cold water. Drain well.

Heat a deep sauté pan or wok over high heat and add canola oil, ginger and garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes until garlic is golden brown; remove using a slotted spoon; reserve garlic and discard ginger.

Add asparagus, scallions and peas and cook over medium-high heat until tender (about 4 minutes). Season to taste with salt.

Add cooked noodles and toss to combine. Transfer to a bowl and add teriyaki sauce.

For the teriyaki sauce: Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan, bring to a boil and gently simmer, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened (about 40 minutes). Let cool.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

This moist and tender cake makes a perfect breakfast, brunch or even dessert. Enjoy with a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. It has a cinnamon, brown sugar and walnut layer running through the cake and streusel on top. It takes 5 minutes to prepare and the rest is oven time.


For the streusel:
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

For the cake: 
1 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter (room temperature)
2 egg whites
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

Combine the brown sugar, chopped walnuts and cinnamon and set aside.

Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until creamy and well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg whites, 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream.

In a different bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture until just combined; do not over mix.

Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Spread half of batter in the pan, sprinkle half of the walnut streusel over batter. Spread the rest of the batter over streusel. Top with remaining streusel.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spanish Omelette (a.k.a. Tortilla de Patatas)

If you have ever been to Spain you have for sure tried the Tortilla de Patatas (Spanish Omelette); you can find it in every restaurant, tapas bar, supermarket, even at fast food places. It is really popular in Spain and I apologize to all my Spanish friends for posting this recipe since everyone in Spain knows how to make a Spanish Omelette. But here in the U.S. I have been asked for the recipe many times. It is really easy to make and I usually make it when I haven't been to the grocery store and have nothing in the fridge. There are always potatoes, onions, eggs and olive oil at a Spanish house, those are true staples of the Spanish cuisine.

Also, if you want to have a tapas party this will be the first step. There is no tapas party without a good tortilla. You can cut the tortilla in cubes, put a toothpick on each tortilla cube and have everyone pick their own piece; it will last only a few minutes! You can also cut the tortilla in small triangles and put it on top of a slice of baguette, which is called a "pincho de tortilla".

To cook the tortilla, the potatoes and onions are slowly cooked in lots of olive oil. There will be plenty of olive oil left, but don't worry, you can reuse it when you make another tortilla.

Tips: The most important gadget you should have to make the tortilla is a good nonstick skillet that distributes heat evenly; otherwise you might end up with a tortilla with runny eggs on one side and cooked through on the other side.

I like to add the egg-potato mixture to the skillet when the olive oil is hot, then reduce heat to low; do the same when you flip the tortilla.

The best way to enjoy your tortilla is at room temperature with a crusty baguette; you can also add a side of salad for a quick lunch.


Serves 4

6 medium russet potatoes or 3 large russet potatoes (peeled and thinly sliced)
1 large onion (chopped)
2 cups of extra virgin olive oil
8 eggs (beaten)

Peel the potatoes and slice thinly; chop the onion.

Heat olive oil in a large deep nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and onions and stir to coat potatoes with oil. When oil begins to bubble reduce heat to medium-low and cook, turning frequently until potatoes are tender but not browned (about 20-25 minutes depending on how thin you sliced the potatoes).

Using a slotted spoon drain and transfer potatoes and onions to a bowl; let cool down for a few minutes. Add eggs (beaten) and salt to taste and stir to combine. You will have about 1 cup of leftover olive oil which you can use for your next tortilla.

If this is the first time you are making a tortilla, I would suggest you divide your potatoes in half and combine with 4 eggs each half.  Following the next steps you can make two small tortillas instead of one large tortilla. It will be easier to flip; you will need a medium skillet.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon of remaining olive oil in a large deep nonstick skillet over high heat (it is important that the skillet distributes heat evenly for best results). Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and reduce heat to low. Cook for 2 minutes.

Invert a plate (same size or larger than the skillet) over the skillet. Using oven mitts hold plate firmly over skillet and flip, releasing tortilla onto plate. Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil to skillet and heat over high heat. Gently slide the tortilla back into the pan, reduce heat to low and cook for another 2 minutes. Again, invert a plate over the skillet and flip to transfer tortilla to the serving plate.

Invert a large plate over the skillet to flip tortilla

Finished tortilla