poco cielo

my little heaven

All the Lemon

Spring is in full swing now with all the showers and still slightly chilly mornings.  It’s around this time of year that farmer’s markets are opening back up from the winter and vegetables are also popping up (for more reasonable prices) at the stores. When I think of warmer weather, I think of citrus. There is something about lemons, lime, and oranges that are extremely refreshing the warmer months. I bought some Sauvignon Blanc from Winc called “Easy Peezy Lemon Squeezy” and decided I wanted to make a post totally dedicated to the all mighty lemon. The wine itself definitely lives up to its name. It’s very mouth-puckering and tart which would make it it perfect chilled on a summer day or even as a sangria mixed with some tropical fruit (note for future self).  One of my favorite things about this wine is that it has a screw cap top. I think that wine snobs only really care about wine having corks. I have had some great tasting wine with screw on tops. In fact one of my favorite wineries, Scheid from central Cali, uses them. These wines are useful when picnicing or taking to a party because you don’t have to fool with bringing a corkscrew along. Just open and enjoy.

This is the perfect time to work on some risotto making skills and try out Ina’s Spring Vegetable Risotto. Now that I’ve learned a few tricks from reading up on risotto making, it really has become a much simpler task that I don’t mess up anymore. Also, it’s great because you can literally throw whatever you want into it as far as meat, vegetables, flavorings, making it a great basic recipe to use up leftovers. My favorite part of this recipe is the lemon added to it. It really brings out the flavors of the vegetables and makes it appropriately spring-timey tasting.

I made a few minor changes to this recipe while I was making it. One major change was that I used some leftover creme fraiche that I had in the fridge instead of the mascarpone cheese. You can sub out the cheese for cream cheese or even plain yogurt (to give it tang). This addition is important as it really makes the risotto creamy and silky. I also added in some basil because again, it was leftover and I wanted to use it. I think it makes a great addition to the dish and adds some extra freshness.

In keeping with the lemon theme, I made Ina’s Lemon Mousse. Instead of making it in a large souffle dish, I put it in small cups for individual serving. This is something that would taste even better on a hot day in the summer as the mousse is very tangy and refreshing.

Don’t let the name intimidate you. Mousse is basically a highly flavored base similar to a pudding or curd that is then lightened with egg whites and whipped cream. In this case, it is very lemony lemon curd that makes up the base (which can be made ahead). I made mine the day before then finished it off the next day. If the idea of egg whites freaks you out, then leave them out and add extra whipped cream. Lastly, pop these suckers in the freezer for a few minutes before serving to allow the glasses to frost over and to firm it up a little bit. It’s fantastic! If you want, put the mousse into plastic cups and freeze for a few hours. The cream keeps the mixture from solidifying and it’s like lemon ice cream. SO GOOD!

Print Recipe
Spring Green Risotto
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, Page 147
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and fennel and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat with the vegetables, oil, and butter. Add the white wine and simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until most of the wine has been absorbed. Add the chicken stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring almost constantly and waiting for the stock to be absorbed before adding more. This process should take 25 to 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the asparagus diagonally in 1 1/2-inch lengths and discard the tough ends. Blanch in boiling salted water for 4 to 5 minutes, until al dente. Drain and cool immediately in ice water. (If using fresh peas, blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes until the starchiness is gone.)
  3. When the risotto has been cooking for 15 minutes, drain the asparagus and add it to the risotto with the peas, lemon zest, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Continue cooking and adding stock, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is tender but still firm.
  4. Whisk the lemon juice and mascarpone together in a small bowl. When the risotto is done, turn off the heat and stir in the mascarpone mixture plus the Parmesan cheese and chives. Set aside, off the heat, for a few minutes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve hot with a sprinkling of chives and more Parmesan cheese.
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Print Recipe
Lemon Mousse
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 194.
Course Dessert
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 4 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Lemon Mousse
Sweetened Whipped Cream
Course Dessert
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 4 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Lemon Mousse
Sweetened Whipped Cream
Instructions
  1. In a large heat-proof bowl, whisk together the 3 whole eggs, 3 egg yolks, 1 cup sugar, the lemon zest, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 10 to 12 minutes until the mixture is thick like pudding. (I change to a whisk when the mixture starts to get thick.) Take off the heat and set aside for 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, until completely chilled.
  2. Place half the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and continue to beat until the whites are stiff and shiny. Carefully fold the beaten whites into the cold lemon mixture with a rubber spatula. Place the cream in the same bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (no need to clean the bowl) and beat on high speed until the cream forms stiff peaks. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the lemon mixture. Fold in the lemon curd, and pour into a 7-inch-diameter, 3-inch-deep souffle dish. Decorate with sweetened whipped cream and lemon slices that have been cut into quarters. Chill and serve.
  3. Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium and then high speed until the cream just forms still peaks. Spoon the whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.
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You Gotta Try This

So, I know I’ve been slacking on the blog lately and I’ll totally own up to it. I’m a bit behind schedule, but with Yoga Teacher Training over and everything finally submitted, I now have more time to dedicate to cooking and writing. I remember watching the episode where Ina makes her Roasted Fish with Mustard Sauce and I remember her saying that she got it from a person when she was in France. I don’t remember much else about it other than she said that the French like to cook easily and are usually inspired by what they find at the market. I decided I wanted to make this as it is easy to make – you simply just bake it in one dish. However, I did hit a bump along the way. I couldn’t find red snapper anywhere in the grocery stores. I had to opt for cod which is a mild-flavored white fish, but I think you could totally use tilapia in it’s place and it would be just as good. Side note: I also totally used frozen fish that I thawed, and it worked perfectly.

I was pretty hesitant about making this as I feel like there is an unwritten rule where fish and dairy just shouldn’t go together. However, there are times when I know that I’ve had it before. Mussels in cream sauce, lobster mac & cheese, crab dip – there are many times that I know I’ve had them together and liked it but just the sound of it is kind of of-putting. I proceeded ahead anyway. The base of the sauce is creme fraiche which is like the french version of cream cheese and kinda has a taste similar to sour cream. There is also two types of mustard, dijon (classic bougie mustard) and course ground or grainy mustard which add a horseradish-like spiciness. Then you just throw in some shallots, capers, salt and pepper and that’s it. Smear it on top of the fish an roast it.

OMG – IT’S SO GOOD! Seriously – this sauce is everything. I was amazed. It goes so well with the fish and literally anything else you serve it with that if you can, make extra. You won’t regret it. I’m already thinking of having this again. It’s almost elegant in a way that you could totally serve this as a meal for guests and would go great with and al fresco setting.

Something else it goes great with – roasted veg. This is Ina’s roasted vegetable so it counts towards the 92 from Back to Basics. Again, very easy and it cooks at the same temperature as the fish. So you can start the vegetables (since they take longer) while you prep the fish, then coordinate them to finish cooking at the same time and dinner is done. And let’s be honest here, the potatoes make it. they get toasted on the outside and are buttery on the inside and take to the mustard sauce and it ends up kinda being like a potato salad.

To go with this, I opted for Winc’s Funk Zone white blend. This wine is best served chilled and goes well with this dinner as it isn’t overpowering and cuts through the cream and mustard sauce very well. Not to mention, the label on the bottle is pretty cool to look at as well. If you’re looking for an all around, easy to drink white wine, this one is perfect. You don’t even need food to go with it. It would make a great sangria – note to self. If you want to try it, you can use my link here: and get a discount on your first order!

Print Recipe
Mustard Roasted Fish
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 137
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. (You can also use an ovenproof baking dish.) Place the fish fillets skin side down on the sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Combine the creme fraiche, 2 mustards, shallots, capers, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Spoon the sauce evenly over the fish fillets, making sure the fish is completely covered. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until it's barely done. (The fish will flake easily at the thickest part when it's done.) Be sure not to overcook it! Serve hot or at room temperature with the sauce from the pan spooned over the top.
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Print Recipe
Oven-Roasted Vegetables
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten page 171
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut the fennel bulbs into 6 wedges each, cutting through the core to keep the wedges intact. Place on a sheet pan. Cut the potatoes in half length-wise and place them on the pan with the fennel. Drizzle the olive oil on the vegetables, then sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Toss with your hands.
  3. Roast the vegetables for 25 - 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, tossing once while cooking. Toss the string beans and asparagus with the roasted vegetables and roast for another 10 - 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and roast for another minute or two until the cheese melts.
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Pi Day!

Hello everyone! As if anyone needs a reason to eat pie, this week is PI Week! That’s right 3/14 is national pi day and most people celebrate it with a sweet fruit or custard filled pastry. Not this guy. I made pizza pies from Back to Basics. These aren’t your typical pizzas, no tomato sauce needed. These are white pizzas (white from the plethora of cheese) and topped with a lemony dressed arugula salad. These might sound fancy and difficult to make, but once you get passed the idea of making the dough, it’s completely a breeze. To be honest, pizza dough might just be the easiest thing to make and you really can’t mess it up. The most important part is to make sure the water you use for the yeast isn’t too hot. Yeast is a live organism. So it needs water and sugar to activate. The yeast gives off gas which makes the dough rise. If you use water that is boiling hot, you’ll kill the yeast and your dough will be like flat hockey pucks. I always just use warm tap water and have never had any issues with my dough rising.

Silky smooth dough

Through this recipe, I’ve learned that garlic and herb infused olive oil is everything. Basically, it’s just heating olive oil

Flavorful EVOO

over low heat and lightly cooking some garlic, thyme (I cheated and used dried), and red pepper flakes. The oil is then perfumed with the flavors of the garlic and herbs and omg, if I were to make this again, I’d sub out the plain olive oil in the pizza dough for this just to add more flavor. I definitely think that I’ll make more to keep on hand. It’s great to fry up eggs in or really whatever you cook because it adds so much flavor.

 

 

 

 

When thinking of pairing a wine to go with this pizza, I had to go for a rose. There is nothing that screams summer more

Rose for days

than a chilled rose and the crisp, fruity flavors lend itself well with the flavors of pizza. I am in love with Winc’s Local Flavor Rose. Their Local Flavor brand that Winc carries donates a portion of it’s earnings to the nonprofit group, Venice Arts.  They reach out to the low-income youth of LA to provide them with education in film and photography. It’s a very cool organization and the wine is top-notch. It is a mix of four different grape varaities so the flavor is very complex and has a lot of fruit flavor and crisp lemony notes which pair really well with the arugula salad on top of the pizza. If you want to give Winc a try and stock up on some great wines, sign up through my link and get a discount on your first order: https://hi.winc.com/2lhy61q4ll7.

Of course I had to make a dessert, I was really feeling it this week, why not? To keep with the Italian theme of the pizza, I decided to make Ina’s Affogato from Back to Basics. Affogato is ice cream drenched in espresso, I mean, sounds like a winner to me! I searched the local stores for plain vanilla ice cream, but seriously couldn’t find any (what’s up with that?). So I decided I’d make a creative version and use Ben & Jerry’s new flavor Urban Bourbon. It’s caramel ice cream with bourbon caramel swirls and chocolate chips in it. Sounded great to me!

For the coffee part of the recipe, I used my Nespresso to brew a pod of espresso to pour over. If you don’t have espresso, make some of your favorite coffee or if you have some left over from breakfast, reheat it and pour over. The key is that the coffee needs to be hot. It helps melt the ice cream which makes it so, so good. I added some chocolate chips on top because you can never have too much chocolate. If you want to take this to the next level, try the Telenti brand gelato. It’s fantastic and adds extra richness to the dessert. Just don’t eat this before bed because the espresso will give you a nice blast of energy for a few hours. This is definitely an early afternoon pick-me-up.

 

For these recipes, I recommend using the following: 

 

Print Recipe
White Pizzas with Arugula
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten page 82
Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15-16 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
pizzas
Ingredients
Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15-16 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
pizzas
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Mix the dough: Combine the water, yeast, honey and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast is dissolved, add 3 cups of flour, then 2 teaspoons salt, and mix on medium-low speed. While mixing, add up to 1 more cup of flour, or just enough to make a soft dough. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with the flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the bowl.
  2. Knead by hand: When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead it by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic.
  3. Let it rise: Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  4. Make garlic oil: Place 1/2 cup of olive oil, the garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't burn. Set aside.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Portion the dough: Dump the dough onto a board and divide it into 6 equal pieces. Place the doughs on sheet pans lined with parchment paper and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
  7. Stretch the dough: Press and stretch each ball into an 8-inch circle and place 2 circles on each sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (If you've chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature.)
  8. Top the dough: Brush the pizzas with the garlic oil, and sprinkle each one liberally with salt and pepper.Drizzle each pizza with 1 tablespoon more of the garlic oil and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, to let the crusts pre-bake. Sprinkle the pizzas evenly with fontina, mozzarella and goat cheese and continue baking for 7 to 8 more minutes until the crusts are crisp and the cheeses begin to brown.
  9. Make the vinaigrette: Meanwhile, whisk together 1/2 cup of garlic olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  10. Add the greens: When the pizzas are done, place the arugula in a large bowl and toss with just enough lemon vinaigrette to moisten. Place a large bunch of arugula on each pizza and a slice of lemon and serve immediately.
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Print Recipe
Affogato Sundaes
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten page 217
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
sundae
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
sundae
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place two scoops of gelato or ice cream in a bowl or cup. Top with chocolate chips. Pour hot espresso or about 1/4 cup of hot coffee over the ice cream and serve immediately.
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Slowing Down

The past week has been pretty crazy! Last weekend was the final weekend of yoga teacher training for my group of

Let our powers combine

fellow trainees, therefore it was our testing weekend. We had both a written exam and a practical plus we had to watch our practical back and receive feedback. Ultimately we all successfully graduate on Sunday, but it was a pretty emotional weekend. We’ve all become really close and it is going to be very exciting to see where our paths take us. For me, who knows. I’m participating in a mentorship through the yoga studio that I graduated from, so for me, that is my next step, to continue to hone my teaching skills and hopefully be a successful teacher one day.

 

Also, in case you’ve noticed, I’m trying to include ads in the blog now for recipes and all things food. I was approved through a few affiliate programs and I’m playing around with WordPress to determine what plugins would help me run the ads but it’s so much more difficult than I thought it would be. It’s definitely a learning experience, but having knowledge of scripts and program codes would be extremely beneficial. Bear with me while I work through upgrading the site, it is a constant work in progress as I’m learning so glitches are bound to happen, but such is life. Things happen along the way of improving ourselves, we can’t take it personally, just learn and grow.

Figuring out this advert thing

Since this week has been busy with so much going on, I just wanted to take some time to slow down. I didn’t want to make a difficult recipe with multiple steps in it this week from Back to Basics. I wanted something simple and therapeutic. In the cooking realm, the most calming thing for me is doing something that I know I can do and do well. It isn’t the time to start some crazy endeavor like making croissants from scratch. For me, that is baking cookies. I feel like when you make cookies for years, you tend to learn a pattern that works for you and they just come naturally. Luckily Ina has a recipe for some Oatmeal Raisin Cookies in her Back to Basics book. I have no idea what I would have made otherwise.

Ready to devour

The BEST kind of cookies for me are ones that are thick, chock full of stuff, crisp on the outside, while still retaining some chewiness on the inside. This recipe hits all those marks. I know that the cup and a half of pecans and raisins sounds like overwhelming, but there can be NO such thing as too much. I mean, when making chocolate chip cookies, I don’t even bother with measuring the chips out, I just dump the whole bag in. I don’t have time for that.

If you’re one of those people that are turned off by raisins, you can sub them out for chocolate chips. Honestly though, why do people give serious hate to the raisins in oatmeal raisin cookies? Raisins are dried grapes, grapes make wine, you’re eating dried wine nuggets. Why can possibly be bad about them?

Anyway, the process of making the cookies is relatively simple and honestly is kind of like an assembly line, plus it gives me time to do stuff in between when they are in the oven. Also, there is nothing quite like a cookie that is still slightly warm after being baked. That is when they are the best.

 

Print Recipe
Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten page 214
Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
cookies
Ingredients
Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
cookies
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.
  3. Beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Fold in the oats, raisins, and pecans with a rubber spatula and mix just until combined.
  5. Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.
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What’s for Breakfast?

Good morning readers! I’m diving right in to this weeks Back to Basics recipes because they are two gems.  I was visiting

Kaia, patiently waiting on her breakfast

home (WV) this past weekend and wanted to make something for breakfast that would be easy. I skimmed back and

forth through the book and decided on two that I wasn’t too crazy about, but sounded like they could be made quickly and without much hassle. Ina’s muesli with red berries ended up being crazy good despite the fact that it doesn’t sound too appealing. Muesli hails from Switzerland and is their version of our granola. It’s a mix of raw oats (uncooked oatmeal) that are softened with warm water and mixed with nuts, seeds, and then topped on top of fruit. I’ve never had the real thing (one day Switzerland, one day) so to me, it just sounded like it would taste like wet cardboard.

Muesli with Mixed Fruit – SO GOOD

SO wrong. It’s actually very delicious despite the fact that it doesn’t look too appetizing. I think the additions that Ina gives to it (honey and most importantly, salt) really help give it lots of flavor and goes great with mixed fruit and yogurt. If you’re skeptical, I’m serious, try it. My parents both enjoyed it too. It’s a pretty versatile recipe too so you can really add whatever you want to it. Instead of adding the granola, I took Ina’s suggestion and used wheat germ instead because I have a container left over from when I made her granola bars a few months ago.

Breakfast, anyone?

I’m not sure why but I really wanted a smoothie this past week. I think it’s the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having. Anyway, since I already made the smoothie recipe from the book months ago, I was kind of thinking I’d have to make one up until….I came across Ina’s Mango Banana Daiquiri in the cocktails section. Ok, I know that a daiquiri isn’t a typical breakfast food (key word: typical), but I figured if you just leave the rum out, it’s basically a smoothie. Can you do that? Can you make a daiquiri and leave the booze out and call it a smoothie? Well, I did and it hit the spot.

Only “good” ingredients here

It only has a few ingredients, so take a note from Ina and use the freshest, best quality you can find for the mango, bananas, and the limes (use only freshly squeezed limes here). I think that is what I’m learning most from cooking through Back to Basics, it’s not really about the ABC’s of cooking, but rather learning the best ways to prepare food to maximize flavor – although while some think you can never have too much butter, my waistline is trying to disagree. These two recipes are ones that I’m definitely keeping in my recipe box to have on hand as they are both easy, delicious, and healthy. Enjoy!

 

For these recipes, I recommend the following:

Print Recipe
Muesli with Red Berries
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 234.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Share this Recipe
Print Recipe
Mango Banana Daiquiris
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, Page 47
Prep Time 10 minutes
Servings
drinks
Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Servings
drinks
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place the mango, banana, lime juice, sugar syrup and rum in a blender and process until smooth. Add the ice and process again until smooth and thick. Serve ice-cold with mango slices for garnish.
Recipe Notes

Sub out the rum for water to make a great smoothie!

To make sugar syrup, heat 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves.

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All-American

Another week down and as I go through my Happiness Journal (one that I received as a free gift thanks to Manduka), from what I would typically describe as a boring week was actually full of fun and activity. Writing down your schedule, things you look forward to, good things that have happened, and things you are grateful for each day are a great way to keep track of the positive so you don’t get lost in all the negative. As I reflect, one of the best things that happened this week was volunteering with a local DC charity called Martha’s Table with a couple of my yoga teacher peers. We went and baked nearly 150 peanut butter oatmeal muffins to be handed out with dinner for the homeless.

Muffins

Seva is the Sanskrit word meaning “selfless service”. As part of our yoga teacher training, we are required to complete a minimum of two hours of seva. Often times, we as a society get so caught up with our desire for outcomes that we perform actions solely for the sake of the outcome. Working ourselves into the ground for a promotion just so we can have a job title or pretending to be something we aren’t for more Facebook likes. Does the end truly justify the means? Sometimes it is rewarding to take a break from expecting a certain outcome and just do something because it feels right – doesn’t necessarily have to be volunteering, but do something that makes you feel right. The upside to volunteering though is that you put action behind your words or beliefs and make your community better in your own way. Don’t like something? Work to change it. Just posting constant status on Facebook really isn’t going to generate much change, but actions can.

And more!

So..yeah…back to food. Hahaha. Since we celebrated President’s Day this week, I wanted to make something from Back to Basics that was unmistakably American.  Ina’s Pot Roast and Baked Potato sealed the deal. Nothing screams “AMERICA” more than meat and potatoes and leave it to Ina to bump up the flavor on both. OF COURSE, I made changes. Has anyone paid attention to meat prices? Some beef roast at Trader Joe’s is like $14 PER POUND, and Ina’s over here wanting me to get like 5 pounds. Nah, I’m good. No wonder people become vegetarians. I stuck with about 1 pound on this and it did make quite a bit. I recommend scaling back the meat because the vegetables and sauce help fill out the recipe and it cooks in less time. 😀

This thing was like $13 and it was hardly a pound -_-

The recipe calls for leeks which I know can be difficult to find, so if you can’t find them, you can easily just use onions because that is exactly what they are. Think of them a giant spring onions, just make sure you cut them in half and wash them out in the center really well as dirt can get trapped in there. Also, you’ll want to remove the really dark green leaves. They are tough and not very flavorful, if you can find ones like I did that are already trimmed, even better because that work is done for you!

Leeks aka GINORMOUS spring onions

For the sauce, I used Winc’s Altre Mon – a red wine from Spain. It’s very rich and has a lot of soft berry flavors. It kind of reminds me of a Merlot to give you some perspective. I learned in a recent wine tasting at a local wine shop that Spanish wines make for great value right now. I started paying some attention to it in the stores and most wines from Spain are sold cheaply. I’m not sure whether it has to do with import/export laws or possibly that Spain doesn’t carry the same mystique when it comes to wine like Italy or France, but hey, I’ll take it. I actually enjoyed drinking it after about 20 minutes of letting it aerate in my glass so it was perfect for sipping while the pot roast cooked away. If you’ve never tried using red wine to braise meat in, you are seriously missing out. It adds a great depth of flavor when combined with beef/chicken/veggie stock. You don’t really know that it is in there, but the sauce just tastes more savory (make sure to stay away from sweet wines otherwise the sauce will turn out sweet – ew).

To go along side the pot roast, a simple baked potato worked out very well. Ina whipped up a mixture of yogurt and sour cream to top hers, but I simplified it and it tastes just as good. Plain yogurt, salt, pepper, garlic, and chive is all you need to make a delish (and relatively healthy) topping for your potato…add butter if you want.

Well, that’s it for this week folks. Enjoy your weekend and try out that pot roast this weekend as the leftovers are great for lunch during the week 😀 Ciao!

 

For these recipes, I recommend the following items: 

 

Print Recipe
Pot Roast
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 116
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2.5 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2.5 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Pat the beef dry with a paper towel. Season the roast all over with salt and pepper. Dredge each side in 1 tablespoon of flour, coating the sides as well. In a large Dutch oven, heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the roast and sear for 4-5 minutes on each side to brown. Remove to a plate.
  3. Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add all the veggies including the garlic to the pan and season with some salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until tender. Add about 2tablespoons of flour to the vegetables and cook for a minute. Add the wine and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Place the roast back into the pot and add the beef or chicken stock. Add enough liquid to make sure that the roast is covered completely. Add the thyme and rosemary and bring to a boil. Cover and place in the oven for 2 hours until the meat is fork tender.
  4. Remove the roast to a plate or cutting board. Remove the rosemary stalks and discard. Transfer half of the sauce and vegetables to a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth. If you’re using a blender, make sure to take the plastic part out of the middle of the lid, otherwise the pressure will cause the lid to pop off and it a literal hot mess. Pour the puree back into the pot and return the sauce to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Slice the meat and serve warm with the sauce and vegetables on the side.
Recipe Notes

Blending half of the sauce helps to thicken it. If you wish to skip this, mash 2 tablespoons of flour with 2 tablespoons of soft butter together and add to the sauce after removing the roast when done. Allow to simmer for a few minutes to thicken.

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Print Recipe
Baked Potatoes with Yogurt
Adapted from Back to Basics by Ina Garten, Page 166
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Wash the potatoes and place them directly on the oven baking rack. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until very tender.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the yogurt, garlic, and chives in a bowl and garnish with chives. Chill.
  4. When the potatoes are done, cut them down the middle to open. Sprinkle with salt and pepper ans serve hot with the cold garlic chive yogurt.
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Healthy Lunch

Hey everyone! Sorry I’ve been offline for a little while – I was basically having all the fun in Disney World. 🙂 I have never

Myself and James in Italy! AKA Epcot

been in my life and to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought it might just be for kids and not really have much for adults but I was so wrong. IT WAS A BLAST! It was really nice to have James with me as he has been several times with his family and knew the parks like the back of his hand, so I basically had the best tour guide ever. We hit up all the parks and it really is difficult to say which was my actual favorite. They each have their own “main attraction” if you will. Epcot has the whole “walk the world” thing going on where you essentially walk past different countries all lined up around a lagoon. Magic Kingdom has the most rides (and the most iconic ones like It’s a Small World and Splash Mountain). Animal Kingdom was fantastic because of the amazing Safari ride they’ve got going on. Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, which they are adding to as well. Oh yeah, and we stopped over in Universal to tour the Harry Potter world they’ve got going on over there which was also amazing.

Epcot at night

While we were there, we totally indulged in all the food including hibachi, Italian, the iconic dole whip, and literally life

THE Dole whip

changing ice cream from the store in the French section of Epcot. I ate the ice cream too fast to take a picture, but trust me when I say it’s amazeballs. After several days of totally ignoring vegetables, I need a few days to cut the calories and be a little healthier. Enter some easy and healthy pan-roasted vegetables a la Ina Garten. While she does offer this as a healthier side dish, I made a major change to make it even more so. She cooks her vegetables in butter, but I switched it out for olive oil and reduced the amount of fat used from 4 tablespoons to 2.

 

 

This recipe is easy and super-fast. It’s done in less than 20 minutes making it perfect for lunch or dinner. The vegetables essentially both sauté and steam, making it a great healthy side dish. Important tip: before you start, make sure you heat the olive oil up for a few minutes in the pan. This is so the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pan. If you throw them in cold, it’s going to be a literal hot mess when you remove the lid to stir.

Heating up the pan

Since I swapped out the butter for olive oil, I felt like this recipe needed more flavor added to it. I added some garlic powder to it and it really made the vegetables taste delicious. You could also add fresh garlic and throw it in at the end when you toss in the celery, but I think the garlic powder allows for equal coverage with the vegetables.

Starting up

I didn’t include wine this week from Winc as I’m on the detox right now. I’ve been hitting up the yoga studio as much as possible to sweat out some of the bad stuff I ate. Today, I paired this side dish with some spicy and flavorful sriracha tofu I picked up from Trader Joe’s. You could also serve this with some healthy protein of your choice or use them to top a salad.

Time to chow down


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Print Recipe
Pan-Roasted Vegetables
Adapted from Back to Basics by Ina Garten, Page 176
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Once the oil is hot, add the carrots, parsnips, shallot, brussles sprouts, thyme, garlic powder and some salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan with a lid or use tin foil and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the celery and stir, recover and cook for 5 more minutes. If the vegetables aren't browned, remove the lid and cook for a few minutes more. Serve hot.
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French Inspired Valentine’s Day

Now that February is here, it’s not too early to start thinking about Valentine’s Day! This year, instead of waiting in lines at restaurants and paying a huge premium for dinner, transport yourself to France by making some coq au vin. Translated to English it means chicken with wine. What is interesting about this dish is that it was actually a peasant or farmer dish in France. Once an old rooster on the farm became too old to be of service to the farmer, it would be then be utilized as a meal for the residents. I guess back in the day, nothing went to waste like today. Yes, I did say rooster – the male. Typically in the US, the chickens we get from the store are female. Roosters are more muscular and tougher pieces of meat so they aren’t as tasty as the female counterpart. This is why the farmers would braise the rooster in wine. By the time they were used for food, they were older and lost a lot of their tenderness.

Coq au vin is now chic and trendy. At it’s core, it is chicken stew – chicken and vegetables braised in red wine. I’ve read many different recipes that have called for things like soaking the chicken in red wine (or blood) overnight or cooking the stew for hours and hours. I think that they really over-complicate the dish. Even Ina’s recipe I think goes too far above and beyond the core of the stew. Today, chicken is more tender and doesn’t need to be soaked in wine or cooked for hours. It also doesn’t need tons of ingredients, just the basics. So, for this, I’m veering away from Ina’s recipe and really going back to basics and giving you my version of coq au vin that is easy and delicious.

For starters, I changed up the chicken used. You can definitely use bone in chicken. I’ve done this before and I find it too inconsistent. The pieces are usually all different sizes and the chicken skin gets really soggy and isn’t pleasant. I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The dark meat is usually more flavorful and affordable so why not? I also sprinkle it with flour before searing it in the pan so it gives the chicken more color since there isn’t any skin on it.

The most important ingredient aside from the chicken is the wine. Something to note, using red wine will turn the meat purple if you are using white meat. It’ll taste fine, it just looks a little weird. If you use dark meat, you won’t be able to tell as much. Red wine is traditional so I got a French red wine from Winc. I’m not a sommelier but I am starting to be able to tell the difference in taste between European (specifically French) and California wine. French wine is more tannic, spicy, and earthy whereas California reds are more fruity, smoky, and woody. Winc offers wines from all over the world and they have a great selection of French wines like Pas Ordinaire which hails from the Languedoc region of France (the South-Western area bordering Spain and the Mediterranean Sea). Here is a link for a discount off of your first order of Winc: https://hi.winc.com/2lhy61q4ll7.

I also like to add tomato paste to the stew before it goes into the oven. This is so not traditional, but it adds richness and depth to the gravy. Feel free to leave it out if you want, but if you never tried it, I dare you. It makes all the difference.

The best part about using boneless chicken is that it doesn’t have to cook very long. Thirty minutes in the oven then some simmering on the stove is all that is needed. None of this baking for 2-3 hours stuff. Once it is finished, serve it with some kind of carb like french bread or potatoes to use up the flavorful gravy.

Ina also included a chocolate dipped strawberry recipe in her book and I had to take it to the next level for Valentine’s day. I made chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes with a chocolate covered strawberry on top! Silky, silky. 😀 I took a major shortcut and made some store bought strawberry cupcake mix from a box.  Feel free to go all the way and make a strawberry cake from scratch, but I honestly think that when it comes to strawberry, store bought is fine (total Ina moment right there).

Ganache is a mixture of chocolate chips and heavy cream, that’s it. Couldn’t be easier. I process mine in the microwave and in less than 2 minutes, I have decadent, velvety, delicious liquefied chocolate. Dip the strawberries in the chocolate then either leave as is or roll it in toppings of your choosing like sprinkles, crushed cookies, or drizzle with white chocolate. Place each in a cupcake liner to make sure the chocolate doesn’t get all over everything because it will. Now for the EASIEST chocolate frosting ever. Put the remaining ganache in bowl and pop in the fridge while you’re baking the cupcakes. Whip it with an electric mixer – I like my Kitchen Aid and it’ll turn into a fluffy chocolate whipped cream. This is what Heaven is made of!

 

Make these cupcakes and you’ll have a Valentine in NO TIME.

I also want to take a moment to shout out that I was recently featured in another blogger’s post! Pig and Tiger is a home decor/renovation blog and reached out to me regarding my opinions on what made a great kitchen for their readers who are in the process of redesigning their kitchens! Check it out at http://www.pigandtiger.com.

 

Enjoy and stay hungry! 🙂

 

Check out some great products on Amazon that helped me with my recipes this week:

 

Print Recipe
Coq au Vin
Adapted from Back to Basics by Ina Garten
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
  2. Heat a dutch oven or heavy bottom (and oven safe) pot over medium heat, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bacon. Saute for 8-10 minutes until the bacon in crispy then remove the bacon. Meanwhile, sprinkle the chicken with 2 tablespoons of flour and 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Working in batches, add the chicken to the pan in one even layer. Sear for about 5 minutes on each side, remove to a plate and sear the rest of the chicken.
  3. Add the carrots and onion to the pan with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Saute, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chicken back to the pan along with the juices that collected on the plate, then add the tomato paste, thyme, bay leaf, bacon, wine, and vegetable or chicken stock. Bring to a boil.
  4. Once the stew is boiling, cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile, clean the mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Remove the stems and cut into quarters. Heat a small skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once the pan and oil are hot, add half of the mushrooms, sauteing until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate then add another tablespoon of olive oil and the rest of the mushrooms. Remove to the plate when finished.
  5. Set the stew back on top of the stove and heat over medium heat, continuing to boil. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes more. Mix the butter and remaining 2 tablespoons of flour and mix until fully incorporated. Add to the stew, stirring quickly to thicken. Cook for 10 minutes until the stew is thick. Serve hot with french bread.
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Chocolate Covered Strawberries
Adapted from Back to Basics by Ina Garten
Course Dessert
Prep Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Course Dessert
Prep Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Instructions
  1. In a microwave safe bowl, add the chocolate chips and heavy cream. Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds, remove and stir. Continue this process until the chips are just melted and form a silky chocolate sauce. Add the orange extract and stir.
  2. Lay out your toppings onto a small plate. Dip each strawberry into the ganache then into the toppings of your choice. Lay in a cupcake liner or onto parchment paper. Continue the process until all strawberries are covered. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to set.
Recipe Notes

You can save the ganache by refrigerating or freezing. It makes a great frosting - just add to a bowl and refrigerate until cold. Mix with a beater until light and fluffy.

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Easy Strawberry Jam

Hey everyone! It’s almost the end of January already! I can’t believe it. I’ve been really busy lately and haven’t had a lot of spare time on my hands. I really couldn’t figure out what to make for the blog this week from Back to Basics. I kept flipping through the book and nothing really jumped out at me until I got to the final recipe…
Homemade jam is something that SEEMS daunting but really is quite easy. I love it because you know exactly what is going into the jam and it makes great gifts. I know I’ve made it plenty of times, but I’ve always used sure-jell to get the jam to set. Sure-jell is powdered pectin that you can get from the store and mix with sugar and fruit to create jam. In true Ina style, her recipe in Back to Basics doesn’t call for sure-jell. She mentions that pectin is a natural jelling agent that is found in fruit. According to my research, some fruits have more pectin than others. Firmer fruits like apples, pears, plums, and citrus fruits contain the most pectin while softer fruits like berries contain little. In Ina’s recipe, she includes a little bit of apple to help the fruit gel. You’ll want to dice the apple very finely so most of it will melt into the jam. The finer the better. You could even grate it if you want.

 

I followed Ina’s instructions and utilized a candy thermometer to know when the jam would be done cooking. However, there is a great and easy way to test the “doneness” of your jam. Simply place a plate in the freezer while the jam is cooking. Once you get to around the 30 minute mark, it’ll look thick. Take the plate out of the freezer and drop a little bit of jam in the center. Let it sit for a few seconds and run your finger right through the middle of it. If you can turn the plate on its side and the jam doesn’t run down through where you ran your finger through it – it’s done! If not, let it go for another fiveish minutes and try again.

All done!

To add to the pectin level of the jam, I substituted the grand mariner in the recipe with freshly squeezed orange juice and added a little bit of the orange zest to add more flavor.

The best part of this recipe – it’s totally interchangeable. You can add/substitute really any berries in this and it will turn out great. Cut it in half if you want to only make a little bit. And for storage, you can seal them following canning instructions OR something I grew up on, just place them in the freezer. We called it freezer jam. It will stay good for months. Just take it out and let it to thaw in the refrigerator. It’s a great way to make the most of summer fruit or even seconds that you can get at a serious discount at the farmer’s market. They’re usually overripe and are perfect for jam. It’s also a great way to use up under-ripe store-bought fruit. Cooking it down concentrates the flavor.

The perfect vehicle for this is a homemade roll with a little dot of butter.

I encourage you to try making your own homemade jam, it is foolproof. You can totally do it!

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Easy Strawberry Jam
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 250.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place the strawberries in a colander and rinse them under cold water. Drain and hull the strawberries, cutting larger ones in half. Place the strawberries in a dutch oven or soup pot. Add the sugar and orange juice.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Add the blueberries and continue to keep the mixture at a rolling boil and allow to reach 220 degrees. This will take about 30-35 minutes.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool for at least one hour and then store covered in jars in the refrigerator. It will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge. You can also place them in jars and place in the freezer and they will last for months!
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Updated Classics

What a LONG week? Am I right? Things have been crazy around DC with the upcoming transition and I’ve been keeping extremely busy with yoga teacher training. In fact as I’m writing this, I just came home from about 4 hours of classes. Through this process, I’ve gained a whole new respect for yoga teachers. It looks easy and seems even easier, but it truly is like being back in school and takes quite a bit of work. I love it though. It has helped me grow in ways that I never knew possible. Plus it also helps me burn some major calories so I can afford to eat some delicious food without busting my waistline!

This week I was craving some classics. And of course, because it’s Ina Garten, her classic recipes have the “volume turned up” as she’d like to say. I decided to make her Cream of Tomato Soup. Who doesn’t love some homemade tomato soup? This recipe calls for fresh tomatoes and I know that one of Ina’s tennants in Back to Basics is to use in season produce. Tomatoes aren’t the best right now, however using them in a soup is a great way to use them because the cooking process and adding the chicken stock give them more flavor. I do have an issue with the sugar in the recipe. I don’t think it is needed at all. In fact, I think the sugar makes it taste like the canned stuff that we ate as kids. The tomatoes are sweet enough and you really don’t need it. Also, is this a new year new you? To make this healthier you can totally leave out the cream. It still tastes great.

Easy Creamy Tomato Soup

Since I don’t have a food mill, I had to use my immersion blender. I added a link at the bottom of this post where you can get one if you want. I don’t have a lot of room in the kitchen so adding another gadget really isn’t what I’m looking to do. However, an immersion blender doesn’t take up much space at all and is great for blending anything from soups to smoothies. Also, in making the croutons that are included in the recipe, instead of making them small floaties to be put in the soup, I tore the bread into large chunks and made dunkies. 😀 So good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I needed a dessert to go with this soup and I had to make the French Chocolate Bark. This is one of my all time favorite things to make because it is SO easy and customizable. Literally the base of chocolate is your canvas to add whatever kind of toppings you want. I deviated from Ina’s recommended toppings and added toasted almonds, pistachios, apricots, dried cherries, crystallized ginger, and as a surprise ingredient, lemon zest. If you just made a face, don’t knock it till you try it! Citrus with chocolate is amazingly delicious. It also brings out the flavor of all the other toppings as well.

This chocolate bark is a great way to jazz up the classic smore. Just replace the usual milk chocolate with a slab of this chocolate bark and you have an easy and very addicting dessert to serve your guests. Unlike Ina, I don’t have a fire pit right outside that I can light up to make them. Honestly, you don’t need a flame at all. You can roast marshmallows in the dead of winter by just broiling them in the oven for about 2-3 minutes. Watch them carefully though! They do contain sugar so they’ll go from toasty to burnt in a matter of seconds. I recommend placing them under the broiler, leaving the oven door cracked and watching them until they are golden brown on top. Then just scoop them off onto your chocolate and smush it all between two graham crackers.

Pre-smush

Post smush

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also nothing tastes better with chocolate than some wine! Usually chocolate is paired with a sweet port style wine when you go to wine tastings. It’s good but I think that with this chocolate bark and all the complex flavors going on that a nice Syrah would be great, specifically Winc’s Full Sleeve Syrah. I am in love with this wine. It has a ton of fruit flavors which go really well with the dried fruit and citrus on the chocolate but it still maintains some dryness to balance out the sweetness from the chocolate and marshmallows. Honestly, I think you could drink this wine straight out of the bottle on its own. You know, like after one of those frustrating days at work and all you want to do is pop open a bottle and watch some TV, or maybe after a Hot Power yoga class? Either way, this wine is good no matter what kind of day you’ve had. To try it out at a discount and see what other wines Winc has in store, check out my link: https://hi.winc.com/2lhy61q4ll7.

Be sure to check out my recommendations below on kitchen equipment and ingredients as well! Until next time, eat well and stay thirsty!

 

For these recipes, I recommend: 

Cuisinart Immersion Blender:

 

OXO Citrus Zester

Print Recipe
Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten
Course Soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
For the Croutons
Course Soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
For the Croutons
Instructions
For the Soup
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and carrots and saute for about 10 minutes, until very tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt, and pepper and stir well. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender.
  2. Add the cream to the soup and process it with an immersion blender until smooth. Reheat the soup over low heat just until hot and serve with julienned basil leaves and/or croutons.
For the Croutons
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Tear or cut bread into large chunks. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and top with the Parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 minutes until the bread is toasted. Serve with the tomato soup.
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