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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cured Salmon (Gravlax) with Blinis

If you want to serve a great appetizer at your next cocktail party that is both easy to make and luxurious, you should definitely try this recipe.

When you think of luxurious foods, you might also think of expensive foods. Well, if you cure your own salmon you will just be paying for the salmon and not for the cost of someone else's labor. Plus you will be able to customize its flavor with the aromatics of your choice.

Gravlax is Scandinavia's most distinctive dish. The process of curing salmon is extremely easy, yet you will impress your guests! Raw salmon is cured with salt and sugar and infused with fresh dill, white peppercorns, citrus peel and aquavit or brandy.

Carving gravlax is the hardest thing and you will absolutely need a sharp knife.

I found this recipe in Saveur magazine; I added a few ingredients of my own and here it is!


Makes about 50 pieces of blinis and salmon

For the gravlax:
1 lb fresh salmon (wild caught if possible) with skin-on
1 cup dill (finely chopped)
2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons white peppercorns (crushed)
Peel of 1 lemon (sliced)
3 tablespoons aquavit or cognac

For the blinis:
4 eggs
1 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Fresh dill and lemon slices to garnish

Combine dill, salt, pepper, sugar and lemon peel in a small bowl and stir together. Place fish in a baking dish.
Rub salt mixture into flesh, then sprinkle aquavit or cognac over fish.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap, then place a slightly smaller plate or pan on top of plastic. Place heavy cans on plate. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days.

Rinse fish in cold water and pat dry. Use a long, sharp knife to slice salmon thinly.

Whisk eggs and sour cream in a large bowl. In another bowl combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add to egg mixture and whisk until smooth.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spoon batter into pan to form small 2-3'' rounds. Cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides.

Transfer to a serving platter, top with slices of gravlax and sprinkle with finely chopped chives.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Quinoa Bowl with Veggies and Yuzu Vinaigrette

Quinoa is a "superfood", high in protein, fiber and minerals. It does not contain any gluten and it is not a cereal grain. Quinoa was an important grain for the Inca Empire, referred to by them as "the mother of all grains". It has been eaten for centuries in South America, but only became trendy and reached "superfood" status in the rest of the world a few years ago.

Quinoa is cooked in just 15 minutes. It has a subtle nutty taste that goes well with all kinds of ingredients. Make sure you rinse quinoa well before cooking to remove a bitter coating that grows with quinoa.

This quinoa bowl I made today is served warm with an olive oil and yuzu vinaigrette. It is really easy to make and you will have it ready in about 20-25 minutes. You can add a poached egg if you don't want to go completely vegan.

Yuzu is an aromatic citrus fruit originating in East Asia. Its flavor is tart and very refreshing, having elements of other citrus fruits like grapefruit and mandarin. You will not forget its flavor! Yuzu's juice and peel are widely used in Japanese cuisine, from cocktails to savory dishes and desserts.

Though really hard to find, fresh yuzu is available in season, from September into January, in specialty stores. Yuzu products can be found year round. I usually buy yuzu juice from and keep it in the fridge for sauces and vinaigrettes. Yuzu marmalade is also great!


Serves 4

1 and 1/2 cup quinoa (rinsed)
1 and 1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1lb cremini mushrooms (cleaned and sliced)
1/2 lb baby spinach
1 lb brocoletti (washed and thinly sliced)

For the vinaigrette:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons juzu juice
crushed red peppercorns
zest of one lemon
salt to taste

Start by cooking the quinoa: In a medium saucepan put the quinoa and water and bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 15 minutes; remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes before uncovering. Fluff with a fork and reserve.

Stir fry the veggies: Heat a deep skillet or wok over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and mushrooms and cook until tender and slightly browned (about 2 and 1/2 minutes). Transfer mushrooms to a plate and reserve. Add one tablespoon of olive oil, spinach and brocoletti and cook over medium heat until tender (about 3 minutes). 

Transfer mushrooms and quinoa to the skillet and mix well with spinach and brocoletti.

Prepare the vinaigrette:Add olive oil, juzu juice, red peppercorns, lemon zest and salt to a small glass jar, cover with lid and shake vigorously. 

Add vinaigrette to quinoa and veggies away from heat and mix well. 

Serve warm and enjoy!

Close lid and shake well

Emulsified vinaigrette

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Pinneaple-Jalapeño Salsa

I am back again with more easy recipes for you! This is a tasty and easy to make pork tenderloin that can be served as a main course or as a taco. The pineapple-jalapeño salsa is grilled with the pork and makes the perfect match. Jalapeños will not be hot if you remove the seeds; I like to use disposable gloves to seed and chop jalapeños since the seeds transfer the heat to your skin and you will feel it when you touch your eyes, nose, etc...

Now that spring is finally here (at least in Chicago) you may consider grilling outside!


Serves 4

1 large pork tenderloin
1/2 pineapple (chopped)
3 jalapeños (seeds removed and chopped)
3 spring onions (cut in half)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

If making tacos add:
Corn tortillas
Cotija cheese

Place pork tenderloin in a deep pan and cover with pineapple, jalapeños and spring onions. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (may refrigerate overnight).

Remove from refrigerator and bring to room temperature (45 minutes-1 hour). Coat pork well with the olive oil.

Heat a large grill pan over high heat. Add the pork tenderloin and the pineapple-jalapeño salsa on the sides of the pan. Cook over medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes on each side stirring the salsa occasionally and adding more olive oil to the pork if needed. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Transfer to a cutting board and let stand for 5 minutes before cutting. Serve as a main course or in tacos with warm corn tortillas, avocado, cotija cheese, cilantro and lime wedges.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Warm Salad of Spring Vegetables with Buckwheat

Spring is here! I decided to shop for spring veggies to make a salad and this is what I found: snap peas, spring onions, sweet petite peppers and white asparagus. I wanted to add more consistency to the salad with the buckwheat. Because all of these ingredients are sweet I added some Greek feta cheese to provide contrast with its tangy flavor. I added some salt flakes, freshly ground black pepper, extra virgin olive oil and a splash of cream of balsamic and here you have a healthy, colorful and delicious seasonal salad.

For those of you with dieting restrictions this salad is gluten-free and grain-free. As I explained in another post 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. The advantage of buckwheat is that it cooks in just 10 minutes!

Buckwheat before cooking

Snap peas are edible-pod peas, they are sweet and really tender. For this recipe I stir-fried them in a wok together with the spring onions. The white asparagus where boiled in salted water and added to the salad. The sweet peppers where roasted in the oven.

Now let's go with the recipe which is simple and healthy as usual! It will also make a great vegan salad by substituting the cheese for tofu.


Serves 4

1 cup buckwheat
3 spring onions (quartered)
1 lb snap peas
1 lb sweet petite pepper medley
1 bunch white asparagus
6 oz. feta cheese
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
cream of balsamic
salt and pepper

Sweet peppers: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Drizzle peppers with one tablespoon of olive oil and place in an oven safe sheet. Bake until tender and slightly browned (about 30 minutes).

Buckwheat: Put buckwheat and two cups of water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse over cold water.

Snap peas and spring onions: Heat a skillet or wok over high heat, add one tablespoon of olive oil, snap peas and spring onions. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

White asparagus: Peel the bottom two-thirds of each spear. Boil asparagus in salted water until tender (about 8-10 minutes)

Assemble buckwheat, veggies and feta cheese on a plate or bowl and drizzle with remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and cream of balsamic. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm or room temperature.


Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad with Blood Orange Dressing

Here is a super easy to make salad, all you have to do is gather the ingredients, chop and shake your vinaigrette. This salad is colorful and very fresh; the vinaigrette is light and bright. I used curly endive because its bitter taste pairs really well with the sweet flavors of mango and avocado and the tangy vinaigrette.

It is very important to use a good quality crab for this salad: jumbo lump crabmeat will do very well. I know it is expensive but really worth it when crab is the absolute star of the salad. 

Blood oranges are in season from December to May so you still have time to make this great vinaigrette! There are plenty of inexpensive Mexican mangoes in grocery stores right now, they are super sweet when ripe. And avocados have become a year-round staple!


Serves 4

1 head of curly endive (washed and chopped)
1 avocado (peeled and cubed)
1 mango (peeled and cubed)
3-4 hearts of palm (sliced)
8 oz. jumbo lump crabmeat

For the vinaigrette:
juice of 2 blood oranges
juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place curly endive in the bottom of a bowl. Add avocado, mango, hearts of palm and crab. 

In a medium bowl whisk together juices, mustard, honey, vinegar; slowly whisk in olive oil in a steady stream until combined; add salt and pepper to taste. If you prefer you can put all the vinaigrette ingredients in a jar with lid and shake it vigorously.

Pour vinaigrette over salad and serve right away.


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.