Miz Chef

Food Is Sexy—Therefore, I Cook


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Creamy Roasted Cauliflower Bisque

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I had no plans for cauliflower over the course of my very busy weekend, but when I saw big, beautiful heads of cauliflower in the store the other day, I couldn’t resist buying one.

It’s cold, snowy, wintry weather, and days like this just scream soup, and what I wanted was a creamy bisque. But before I get to my recipe, let’s talk a bit about this wonderful cruciferous vegetable.

Cauliflower is part of the Brassicaceae family and is related to cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choi, collard greens, and some other leafy green vegetables. In my cookbook, Vegetarian Italian: Traditions, Volume 1, I talk a little bit about the history of cauliflower and its health benefits:

The word cauliflower comes from the Latin words caulis (“cabbage”) and floris (“flower”). Cauliflower is believed to have originated in China, moving its way to the Middle East and then to Spain via the Moors in the 12th century, and then throughout the rest of Europe. In the 16th century, cauliflower was considered a new vegetable but there is evidence that the ancient Romans grew it. We know it’s been growing in the New World, specifically Long Island, NY, since the 17th century. It became popular in Europe in the 17th century when a cauliflower dish was named after the mistress of French King Louis XV, the Comtesse du Barry. In Northern Europe, it became a popular Lenten food. Cauliflower heads were originally the size of softballs but were cultivated to be larger. Writer Mark Twain called it “cabbage with a college education.”

Different countries and regions grow all types of cauliflower, ranging in size and color, including green and purple. As a cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower is high in vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber, and is considered helpful in preventing heart disease, cancer, and high cholesterol.

So, yes, even though cauliflower is as white as snow (well, almost), it is high in vitamin C.

Now, let’s get to the recipe. This is a very easy soup to make. I’ve made it vegan by omitting the typical cream (or half-and-half), so in order to make it thick and creamy, I’ve added 1 medium potato. I love creamy soups, but I prefer to have a bit of chunkiness in mine, so when it comes time to puree it, it’s up to you to decide how much to puree. To make the soup even more savory, I roasted the cauliflower first, which really brings out its sweetness and flavor. I’m fond of ground fennel seed and use it quite a bit in my recipes; if you want, you can substitute any other spice you like, or just omit it.

Enjoy!

Creamy Roasted Cauliflower Bisque

Makes 6 servings.

1 large head cauliflower
2 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
5 to 6 cups vegetable broth
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon ground fennel seed*

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the cauliflower into equal-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Add ¼ cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper. Mix so that all pieces are coated. Transfer to a baking sheet. Roast until crisp-tender and golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Stir halfway through.

IMG_4578IMG_4579In a medium sauce pot, heat 2 teaspoons oil. Add onion and 1 teaspoon salt and sauté until translucent.IMG_4610Add garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Pour in 5 cups broth; cover and bring to a boil. Add cauliflower, potato, bay leaf, fennel seed, and 1 teaspoon salt. If all ingredients are not submerged, add remaining broth. Bring back to a boil; lower heat and simmer until cauliflower and potato are fully tender when pierced with a fork.IMG_4613Transfer half the soup to a blender and puree (be sure to hold the top down with a kitchen towel).IMG_4614 If you want to leave it chunky, pulse the machine a few times so that it doesn’t fully puree the contents. If you want to thin it out, blend in a little more broth or water. Pour both batches back in to the pot or the bowl.IMG_4616Taste for seasoning; add remaining salt, if necessary, and more black pepper, if you like.

Serve hot and enjoy.

*Ground fennel seeds: Place a teaspoon fennel seeds in a coffee or spice grinder and grind until powdery fine. IMG_4617


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Gluten-Free Lemon-Poppy Berry-Topped Cake

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On this deep-in-winter February day, I’d like to offer a recipe for a gluten-free cake that is really easy to make and very versatile. The batter doesn’t rise much, which makes it a great vehicle for all kinds of toppings.

I like it because it’s not overly sweet and it can be paired with lots of different things. Instead of berries, you can top it with lemon curd or orange marmalade, or buttercream frosting. You can put the batter into 4 small loaf pans for individual desserts. You can also substitute the lemon zest and juice with orange or other citrus. And with the exception of 1 egg, it’s also dairy free, so for those of you who are lactose intolerant, it’s a great choice.

Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Lemon-Poppy Berry-Topped Cake

Makes 1 8-inch cake.¼ cup sorghum flour

¼ cup chickpea flour
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch sea salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 large egg
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons maple crystals or coconut sugar
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups fresh berries
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch cake springform pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, zest, and poppy seed.

In another medium bowl, whisk egg, sugar, yogurt, oil, and lemon juice. Fold in dry ingredients, just until all ingredients are moistened.

Bake about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Remove ring. Invert onto a plate, remove pan plate, then invert again back onto rack. Let cool completely.

Transfer to a plate. Decorate with berries and dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. (The best way to do this is to put sugar in a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. Then shake the sieve gently over the cake.)

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The Dark Mistress of Valentine’s Day…and Pudding Hearts

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It’s kind of fascinating how you can point to any holiday on the calendar at any time of the year and, invariably, there will be food associated with that holiday. And if it’s not about the things you should eat, then it’s the things you should not eat. Or, it’s that you should not eat at all (as in fasting).

Personally, I think holidays are just excuses for eating lots of delicious things that we normally stay away from, or otherwise berate ourselves for indulging in when there’s no holiday to make it permissible.

Photo: André Karwath

Photo: André Karwath

St. Valentine’s Day is no exception. The number one food for V-Day, of course, is chocolate. What would this lovers’ holiday be without the sweet, dark mistress of passion? And a mistress she is—when she calls you, you come running, even if you have to jump hurdles to get to her. She seduces you with her aroma and her flavor, and when you get a taste of her, you savor her, letting her linger on your palate. And once she whips you into submission, she makes you beg for more. There’s a reason why the Aztecs called it the food of the gods.Choco Story Museum in Bruges Belgium (9)

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Cooking with Cambrays

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Cambray onions, also known as spring onions, are related to scallions. In fact, they look like a cross between scallions and Texas onions—long green stems with big round bulbs.

I’d seen them before but had never purchased them, so when I saw them this past week, I grabbed a few. I learned that they are a popular onion in Latin cuisine (in which they are referred to as cebollitas de Cambray or cebolla Cambray), and almost always appear on mixed grill platters.

They can be used in many types of preparations, from salads to onion tarts to tacos. Being that this was the first time I was eating them (to my knowledge, anyway), I did what I often do with a new-to-me vegetables—I roasted them. I like to do this because it allows me to sample the new vegetable in its basic form with no added ingredients, besides olive oil, salt, and pepper. Plus, once you’ve grilled a vegetable, you can then add it into many other dishes.

So, I roasted the Cambrays until they were caramelized and tasted one by itself. It was sweet and creamy and I could imagine throwing them, cut up, into a dish of pasta or adding them to a stew or chili. I put a few pieces on some flat bread, drizzled some extra virgin olive oil over it, sprinkled a little more salt and pepper, and finished it with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Very simple and very good.

IMG_4430Roasted Cambray Onions

Several Cambray onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Trim onions by slicing off roots and removing outer layers that look brown or funky.

Lay onions on a baking sheet. Drizzle oil over onions and rub them to coat with oil. Sprinkle on salt and pepper.IMG_4423Roast about 15 minutes; turn them over and roast another 10 minutes, or until both sides are golden brown.IMG_4427


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Avocado Pineapple Cake

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This weekend was my mother’s birthday. She just turned 81. She’s very spry for her age and still sharp in mind, and I’m thankful every day for that.

She’s also set in her ways. She likes what she likes, and doesn’t like what she doesn’t. She’s never liked going out to restaurants much, since, in her opinion, restaurant food lacks in many departments. The one and only time she was ever really excited to go to a restaurant was when my brother and I took my parents to Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s place in Manhattan. She’s a huge fan of Lidia and just being in her world was a thrill for Mom. (One of my regrets is not getting a picture with Lidia when I met her at the James Beard House when I was interning there. She treasures the picture of me with Jacques Pepin and I think one of me with Lidia would have made her swoon.)

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Apple Cider Special

Apple cider drinkIt’s the last weekend before Christmas. For many of you, the tree’s been trimmed, the stockings have been hung by the chimney with care, the presents are wrapped and waiting under the tree, and the cookies for Santa have been baked. For many of you, this frenzy will continue for the next few days until Santa Claus is on the radar over Singapore.

For both of these groups of people—and even for those who don’t like Christmas and feel that it’s a time of year you must endure—the best thing I could think to off this week is an alcoholic beverage.

Apple cider is everywhere this time of year and it’s not unknown to add a dash or whiskey of bourbon to enhance its qualities. I thought I’d try something slightly different: apple cider, gold rum, and apricot brandy.

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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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