Miz Chef

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Italian Vegetable Crackers

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Want to do something different for that  Christmas party? Why don’t you try making your own crackers? They’re really not that difficult.

Crackers have been around for thousands of years—the ancient Romans made them! The word “cracker” comes from the Medieval word craken, meaning “to resound,” which describes the sound they made when broken.

Italians love to put vegetables in everything, and crackers are no exception. These crackers are a nice blend of herbs and fresh greens. Fava beans, in particular, are very popular in Italy and this recipes utilizes fava bean flour. Not only does it eliminate at least a little bit of the white flour, but it lends the crackers a more complex, vaguely nutty flavor.

Put these out with cheese, dips, salsa, or even guacamole. But they’re tasty enough to enjoy on their own.

Enjoy!

Italian Vegetable Crackers

Makes approximately 7 dozen crackers.

½ cup chopped greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc.)
¼ cup +2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup fava bean flour (or chick pea flour)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground rosemary
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground fennel seed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup parmesan cheese
Hawaiian sea salt or other finishing salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place greens and 1 teaspoon oil in a food processor and process until very finely chopped. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, rosemary, oregano, paprika, garlic powder,  kosher salt, fennel seed, pepper, and parmesan. IMG_4165

Add ¼ cup oil and mix until a dough forms. If necessary, add water, a little at a time, until all ingredients come together.IMG_4166IMG_4167

Place a piece of parchment paper down on a clean surface. Place  dough on the parchment and roll out as thinly as possible. IMG_4169

Cut off the edges to make straight lines. With a ruler, score 1 inch rows down and then across. IMG_4171

Brush top with remaining oil; sprinkle with finishing salt, if desired.IMG_4174

Bake until firm and lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes. Then move parchment to a cooling rack. Separate crackers and let cool completely.

Store in a tin.

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Broccoli Rabe and Cheese-Stuffed Bread

IMG_4110What happens when you have the urge to bake bread and have some broccoli rabe in the refrigerator? You make broccoli rabe bread, of course. Or, more specifically, broccoli rabe and cheese-stuffed bread.

Stuffed bread is an age-old delicacy and Italian cuisine is known for many kinds. In this one, the pleasant bitterness of the broccoli rabe is tamed by the rustic bread. The addition of cheese lends a salty sharpness to it. You can use whatever cheese you want. I used a blend of Fontina and Jarlsberg. If you like, you can add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese as well.

I just bought a big ol’ package of yeast, so I think I’m going to be on a bread-baking kick for a while. We’ll see. In the meantime, try this one out for breakfast, lunch, or a snack. By the way, it goes great with wine.

Broccoli Rabe and Cheese-Stuffed Bread

Bread:

2 teaspoons dry active yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
2 ½-3cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
½ cup milk
2 teaspoon olive oil

Broccoli Rabe-Cheese Filling:

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
½ cup chopped mushrooms
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 large head broccoli rabe, chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup shredded cheese
1 egg, well beaten (optional)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)

Combine the yeast with sugar and ¼ cup very warm water. Stir until dissolved and let sit for 5 minutes until it bubbles and foams.

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Combine 2½ cups flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Add the yeast and butter and begin mixing on medium speed. Begin adding milk a little at a time, then increase speed until dough comes together. Continue mixing for a couple of minutes.

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Transfer dough to a lightly floured board and knead for 2 or 3 minutes. Place oil in bottom of mixer bowl; place dough in oil then turn it over so that all of dough is coated. Cover with a clean towel and place in a warm, draft-free place and let rise for 1 hour.

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Meanwhile, make filling. Heat oil in a wide pan. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt and sauté until they start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add broccoli rabe, red pepper flakes, and remaining salt; cover and let cook until tender, about 5 minutes. If pan dries out, add a little water, white wine, or broth.

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When dough has risen for an hour, place on lightly floured board again. Roll out into a rectangle about 8 x 15 inches. (It doesn’t have to be perfect, as my picture can attest.) Place the broccoli rabe along the center of the dough, then spread on the cheese. Roll up dough and pinch the seam together. Tuck in the ends and pinch together. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with the cloth and let rise again for another hour.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prick the dough with a fork in several places. If you want to add sesame seeds, brush the top with egg and sprinkle on the sesame seeds.

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Bake for about an hour, or until golden brown and bottom sounds hollow when thumped.

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Move to a cooling rack and let sit for 5 minutes before cutting into it.

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Enjoy!


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Black Bean Flour Bread with Herbs

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Over the past few years, I’ve experimented with quite a few gluten-free flours and I thought I’d seen, or at least heard about, most of them. Then, recently, I found a new one: black bean flour (or powder). The reason I hadn’t seen it before? It was in the coffee and tea aisle in an Asian market.IMG_4031

See, the coffee and tea aisle in an Asian market is not like the coffee and tea aisle in other markets. In an Asian market, next to the Folger’s and Maxwell House and Lipton and Celestial Seasonings, you’ll find an enormous assortment of beverage mixes to which you would add hot water. The teas, of course, include herbal “health” teas, but next to the coffees, you’ll find beverages made of grains, roots, and beans. These are all drunk in various Asian countries for various health purposes. In the case of bean flours, they provide protein.

Black bean flour lends a dark color to whatever you add it to, so it’s generally added to breads, chocolate cakes, or dark vegetable dishes, such as black bean quesadillas. I decided to try my hand at bread. It turned out very well, and I’m going to try incorporating it into a gluten-free loaf next time.IMG_4032

Black bean flour has an unusual flavor and takes a bit to get used to. But after I processed the first bite, I found the taste to be pleasant. I think it makes a great snacking bread with butter or jam to accompany coffee or tea. But I think it would also make a good hearty sandwich bread—any kind that you would make with a pumpernickel or dark European-style loaf.

If you want to give it a try, look for black bean flour in an Asian IMG_4033market or Whole Foods. If you can’t find it, Bob’s Red Mill has it (they seem to only have one size, though—6.5 lbs.). Oh, and be careful–I found one of those preservative packets in mine (oddly named “oxygen absorber”).

Black Bean Flour Bread with Herbs

1 tablespoon dry active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup black bean flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ chipped dill

In a small bowl, stir yeast and sugar in ¼ very warm water until dissolved. Let sit 5 minutes until foamy.

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Whisk together the flours and salt.

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(If you have a mixer with a dough hook, you can use that. You can also use a food processor. Otherwise, mix the flours and salt together in a large bowl.)

Pour in the yeast along with another cup of very warm water. Mix until all ingredients are well blended. Unlike most yeast breads, you don’t have to knead this. This will be a moist, somewhat sticky dough. Add a little more warm water if it seems dry.

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Coat the bottom of a large bowl with the oil; place dough in bowl and turn it over until completely coated with oil. Cover with a towel and set in a warm, draft-free place and let rise for 2 hours.

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Lightly dust a board with flour and turn the dough out. Flatten it a little. Add the chopped parsley and dill and begin folding it in. When herbs are well incorporated, stop working the dough.

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Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover again with the towel and let rise another hour. (You can divide the dough into 2 loaves, or make 1 big loaf.)

Preheat oven to 400 degree F. Bake bread until it sounds dense when you thump it, about 40 minutes for smaller loaves, 45-60 minutes for a larger loaf.

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Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Coconut Cake with Apple Cider-Bourbon Glaze

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One of my favorite things about the autumn holidays is baking with pumpkin. Every year, I try at least one or two new pumpkin recipe. This one is an homage to the people in my life who have gluten issues.

I call this recipe gluten-free but be aware that the flour I chose to use is spelt. If you have a gluten sensitivity, you’re probably able to eat spelt. But if you have Celiac Disease, this isn’t the recipe for you.

Pumpkin is a strong flavor and usually trumps any other flavors that it’s combined with. I wanted to make the coconut in this cake as bold as I could, so I used coconut in several forms: coconut sugar, coconut flour, coconut milk, coconut rum, and shredded coconut. This cake is dense but moist with a nice little crunch from the shredded coconut. And best of all, those of you with gluten issues don’t have to miss out on the pumpkin goodness at the holidays.

Enjoy and have a safe, healthy, happy Thanksgiving.

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Coconut Cake with Apple Cider-Bourbon Glaze

1 cup spelt flour
1 cup coconut flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup coconut rum
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup coconut (palm) sugar
4 large eggs
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans, almonds, or walnuts

Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons bourbon
2 teaspoons apple cider

Grease and flour a 10-inch cake pan. Preheat the oven to 375.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the spelt and coconut flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt. Place shredded coconut in a small bowl and pour rum over it. Mix and let sit.

Cream together the butter and coconut sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each one. Beat in pumpkin puree, coconut milk, applesauce, and vanilla.

Gradually add flour mixture and mix until well blended. Fold in shredded coconut and nuts.

Pour into cake pan and bake 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out fairly clean (the knife will be slightly wet but you don’t want to see raw batter coming out). Place on a cooling rack and let cool completely in pan, then invert onto a plate. The cake will be fragile while it’s hot.

Make Apple Cider Glaze:

Place confectioner’s sugar in a medium bowl. Add 1 teaspoon each bourbon and cider, then a little more at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Pour over cake. Decorate as desired.

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Sweet Potato Flour Scones

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For those of you who don’t know, I took all my own photos for Vegetarian Italian: Traditions, volumes 1 and 2 (volume 1 is available now from all online retailers, and volume 2 is due out some time next year). I am taking photos for my upcoming cookbooks as well. What this means for me is that I’m in a constant testing/shooting mode. Which in turn means that I don’t often have a chance to cook just for the pleasure of it or to randomly experiment. Between a full-time job, my fiction writing, and my cooking/writing, I just don’t have the time.VegItalCover FINAL_Page_1

Lately, though, I’ve been in a bit of a slump in my fiction writing, so I’ve been able to devote a little bit more time to my cooking/writing. The following recipe is one result.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I go out all the time to the specialty and ethnic markets near where I work and buy something new to try. The Asian markets have sweet potato flour, which I’d never seen before, so I picked up a bag and finally got to use it. It’s great for gluten-free baking, and I decided to try out a scone. I started with a standard gluten-free flour combination and incorporated the sweet potato flour. It turned out very well.IMG_3792

You can alter the recipe any way you like. I prefer dried cranberries, blueberries, or other dried fruit, but if you prefer to go traditional and stick with raisins, go right ahead. For added moisture, you can soak the fruit for an hour or so before adding them to the batter. Or omit them altogether. You can add nuts or change the flavor profile by adding orange or lemon zest, or your favorite flavor extract. And if you like scones on the sweeter side, add a bit more sugar.

Gluten-free scones tend to dry out faster than regular scones, so they’re best eaten fresh. Store leftovers in a plastic bag at room temperature for the first couple of days (unless it’s very hot and humid, then put it in the refrigerator). If you have any longer than that, then put it in the refrigerator. You can freeze it up to 3 months as well. I shaped mine flat to mimic some of “gourmet” scones I’ve seen, but it actually might come out better if you mound it in the traditional dome shape.

As much as I love warm scones, gluten-free baked goods tend to have a weaker structure and often crumble easily. This is one of those, so it’s best if you let it cool completely before cutting into it. But if you want it warm, go ahead and dig in right away, just be aware that it will crumble. But, then, you may like that! Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Flour Scones

Makes one 9-inch round scone.

1 cup sweet potato flour
1 cup rice flour
½ cup almond flour
¼ cup tapioca starch
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon maple crystals

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sweet potato flour, rice flour, almond flour, tapioca starch, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt.

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Cut the butter into little pieces and add to bowl. Using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers, blend the butter into the flour until you have coarse crumbs.

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Stir in cranberries. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the buttermilk and add the rest to the bowl, along with the egg and honey.

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Gently combine just until all dry ingredients are moistened and you have a soft dough.

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Transfer to the baking sheet and shape it into a round loaf. Brush with some of the reserved buttermilk and sprinkle maple crystals on top. Score the top with a knife (optional).

IMG_3803Bake for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 375 and bake another 15 minutes, or until golden brown and top feels firm (but not hard!). Transfer with parchment to a rack and let cool completely.

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Apple Corn Muffins

You know me—always picking up some odd thing or another in the plethora of ethnic markets throughout New York City.IMG_2510

This time, it was canned apples in sugar syrup from my favorite Indian market in Jackson Heights, Queens. Normally, I don’t buy canned fruit, much less anything in sugar syrup. But it just caught my attention on the shelf and I was curious about what they tasted like and what their appeal was. So, I bought a can.

Okay, now I know that it states right there on the can that they’re packed in sugar syrup. But I was not prepared for the cloying sweetness that almost put me into a diabetic coma. Yowza.

So, this is what I did. I drained the apples from the syrup and threw together a quick cornbread mix and made muffins. I found that the cornbread balanced out some of that sweetness. Keep the syrup for another recipe (for example, poke holes in a cake and pour the syrup over the top, or strain it and use it for a cocktail).IMG_2512

Here’s my recipe. It’s really easy and quick and a great way to use those canned apples that everyone has lying around. I mean, don’t you have them in your pantry?

Do not add sugar to the cornbread mix—it will make the muffins over-the-top sweet. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!IMG_2522

Apple Corn Muffins

1 cup fine cornmeal
¼ cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
pinch salt ¼ cup milk
1 egg
1 container apples in syrup, drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 6-cup muffin tin.

In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk together.

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Add milk and egg and whisk in. Fold in apples just until all apples incorporated.

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Divide batter into cups of muffin tin.

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Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes; turn out onto wire rack.

Makes 6 muffins.IMG_2523

 

 

 


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Chocolate Cake with Avocado Mousse

This week, I wanted to offer my recipe for Chocolate Cake with Avocado Mousse. It received raves when I made it and I’m finally getting around to posting it.

The first ingredients is a chocolate sheet cake. You can certainly make it from scratch, but if you’re pressed for time, you can go and buy one from the store.

Rich chocolate cake paired with a zesty avocado mousse makes a luscious sweet-tart flavor combo. The white chocolate chips give it a gratifying chewy element without competing with the cake. Besides, with antioxidants in chocolate and omega-3 fatty acids in avocado, who can argue that this is a decadent dessert with health benefits? And it’s vegan!

Chocolate Cake with Avocado Mousse

1 chocolate sheet cake (9×13”)
2 Haas avocados
1/4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon citrus zest (orange, lemon, lime or a combo)
1 teaspoon maple crystals
1/3 cup white chocolate chips

1. Trim off about 1 inch from each end of the cake. Split the cake in half, lift off the top half, and set aside.

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2. Combine avocados, lime juice, vanilla, honey, citrus zest, and maple crystals in a food processor and process until completely smooth. (Stop the machine and push down the mixture with a rubber spatula, if necessary.)

3. Spread the avocado mixture evenly over the bottom half of the cake. Sprinkle the chips evenly over the avocado. Replace the top half of the cake.

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4. Cut into 12 squares, or use a 2 1/2-inch ring mold to cut out circles. Serve as is or sprinkle powdered sugar over the top.

Makes 12.

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