Miz Chef

Food Is Sexy—Therefore, I Cook


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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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Tempeh Chili Casserole with Beet Greens

IMG_3757I get into these moods when I crave to make a pot of chili. The thing about chili is that there’s no way to make just a little. Just by its very nature, chili is a big-pot deal. I usually put a lot of it in the freezer and it really comes in handy to have.

This week, though, I did something a little different. I picked up a bunch of beets at the Greenmarket and it had some beautiful leaves attached. Normally, I would sauté the greens in garlic and olive oil (my favorite and go-to way to cook greens), but I wanted to do something different with those, too.

So, I decided to do a casserole, or what Italians call a timbale—a dish that is formed in some sort of mold shape. I used the beet leaves to wrap the chili in a small casserole dish (a 40-year-old cornflower Corningware!), added some cheese, and voilà.

My chili has tempeh in it for extra protein and texture. Tempeh adds a meatiness to chili that makes it appealing to meat-lovers as well. You can either dice, chop, or crumble it, according to your preference. Crumbling it gives it a chopped-meat texture, but I prefer a small dice. It’s important to drain the chili before putting it into the casserole; otherwise, there will be too much liquid. Also, I used homemade corn stock (which I also keep in the freezer), which gave it a fabulous flavor, but any vegetable stock will do.

Enjoy!

Tempeh Chili Casserole with Beet Greens

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Chili

2 teaspoons olive oil
8 oz. tempeh, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 medium red pepper, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 small jalapeno, minced
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 (15-oz) can plum tomatoes, chopped
2 cups cooked kidney beans
1 cup corn (preferably organic)
1 cup broth
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Casserole

Greens from one bunch beets
Olive oil

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Make the chili. Heat the oil in a larger pot. Add the tempeh and sauté, stirring often, until browned on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.IMG_3572IMG_3579Add the onions and a pinch of salt and sauté until soft and translucent (if the pot is completely dry, add a bit more oil). Add the garlic and sauté a minute.

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Make a space in the pot and add the tomato paste. Begin stirring it in until it’s incorporated into the onions.

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Add the red, green, and jalapeno peppers and carrots and continue sautéing until soft.

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Stir in the tempeh, chili powder, and cumin and cook another 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, beans, corn, and broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, about 30 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cilantro.

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Take about 3 cups and set aside. Store the rest in the refrigerator or freezer.

Place the 3 cups chili in a strainer set over a bowl and let drain for at least half an hour. Stir occasionally.

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Meanwhile, place the beet greens in a large bowl filled with cold water. Swish them around then let sit for 15 minutes. Scoop the leaves out and transfer to another bowl or a clean towel. Pour out the water and rinse out the bowl. Place the leaves back in and fill with water again and let sit another 15 minutes. Scoop them out and lay out on a clean cloth or paper towels. Pat them dry. Pick out the largest ones.

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Brush the inside of a 1- or 1½-quart casserole dish with oil. Line it with beet greens so that the greens hang out over the edges. Fill with drained chili. You may have to hold the leaves in place with one hand while you scoop with the other.

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Cover the top with cheese.

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With your fingertips, oil the leaves. This is important to do because otherwise the leaves will dry out and get crispy in the oven. Fold the leaves over to cover the top. If necessary, lay additional leaves across the top of the cheese (make sure those are oiled as well). If the leaves don’t want to stay down, insert toothpicks where needed.

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Cover the top with lid or aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 20 minutes or until liquid had dried up. Remove toothpicks.

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Serve in casserole dish and scoop out, or invert onto a platter.

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Broccoli Potato Soup with Beans and Greens

IMG_3498I love it when leftovers come together so beautifully that they make a healthy, delicious meal. Yep, this is another one of my everything-in-the-refrigerator concoctions. And it turned out pretty damn good.

I love soup, and it’s one of the easiest ways to utilize leftovers. In this case, I had a few potatoes, a piece of broccoli, and some leftover greens. So, this is what I came up with. I hope you give it a try and enjoy it.

Broccoli Potato Soup with Beans and Greens

2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup chopped white onion
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups chopped potatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups chopped broccoli
2 cups cooked beans
2 cups greens, washed

Heat the oil in a medium pot. Add onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 2 minutes.

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Make a space in the pot and place the tomato paste in that spot. Stir it for about 30 seconds then stir it into the onions and garlic. Mix well.

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Add potatoes and stir them in. Let cook about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
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Pour in the broth and add broccoli and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes and broccoli are tender, about 15 minutes.

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Using a stick blender or blender, puree the soup. If you want a completely smooth soup, puree the entire pot (in a couple of batches). If you prefer it chunky, puree only half of it. If you’ve used a blender, pour the soup back into the pot.

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Stir in beans and greens and continue cooking another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

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Ladle into bowls. You can serve with black or red pepper, grated cheese, or croutons, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.


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Concord Grape Jam

 

IMG_3519Once again, I was the beneficiary of unwanted CSA produce. This time it was Concord grapes. My friends didn’t want them because they are too seedy.

I do understand what they mean—the seeds inside a Concord grape take up half the volume of the entire grape, and as delicious as that little burst of Concord flesh is, it’s a very small burst for all the spitting of seeds that follows. Plus, the skin is tart.

I know this because I once had Concord grapes growing in my yard. But the vines never yielded enough for me to do much with them except have a little snack. The birds got to a lot of them before I did, too.IMG_3505

Anyway, I am the recipient of unwanted foodstuffs because my friends know that I will put them to use somehow. In this case, I chose to make grape jam.

I’ve made fruit preserves before, and homemade cranberry sauce has become one of my personal Thanksgiving traditions, but I’d never made grape jam before. Turns out, it’s incredibly simple. You don’t even have to remove the seeds. You just have to remove the skins. Granted, this is a bit time consuming, but it is not at all difficult. Unlike other grape varieties, Concord grapes pop out of their skins very easily. One gentle little squeeze, and out they come. But a little patience is required to do them all. I suggest wearing latex gloves when you do this, or you might end up looking like the purple people-eater.

The rule of thumb for sugar is 1 cup per 1 pound of grapes. I had about 1 ½ pounds of grapes, so I used that many cups of sugar. The result, if I do say so myself, was delicious. The jam was sweet but not cloying (which I hate) and fresh tasting (unlike many jellies, which taste “chemically” from the preservatives).

Because my batch was rather small, I decided not to jar it with the standard canning method. I just put them in 2 little jars and, because of the sugar, they will last in the refrigerator for several weeks. However, if you’re going to make more than I made, or want to make it for long-term storage, you can find instructions for canning here:

Ball (as in Ball jars)

National Center for Home Food Preservation

Simply Canning

You can add flavorings to it, like vanilla or lavender, or create any combination of flavors that you like. Enjoy this on muffins and toast, in yogurt and oatmeal, or in a classic PB&J.

Concord Grape Jam

1 ½ pounds Concord grapes
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Wash and drain the grapes. Pop them out of their skins.

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Place the skins in the bowl of a food processor. Add ½ cup sugar to the skins. Process until pureed.

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Place the pulp in a medium saucepan along with remaining 1 cup sugar and lemon juice. Add the skin puree and mix. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Skim foam from top, as needed.

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Set a mesh strainer over a bowl. Press the jam through strainer; return the contents of the bowl to the pot, and discard solids. Return to a boil; lower heat again and continue simmering, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. The jam will still be loose but will gel as it cools down.

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Place in clean jars with tight-fitting lids. For long-term storage, use a standard canning process.

Makes about 1 ½ cups jam.

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Going Flakey with Quinoa

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I call Jackson Heights, Queens, the United Nations because half of the world’s cultures, nationalities, and identities can be found there. And where there are ethnic enclaves, there are markets that cater to those enclaves.IMG_3474

This New York neighborhood is home to just about every Central and South American nation you can find on the map, and I’m always going home with some new product I’ve never seen or tried before.

My forays into various ethnic markets have introduced me to many different grains in many different forms, from rice flakes to lotus nut puffs (okay, not technically a grain) to cracked corn. This past week, I found quinoa flakes.

The package recommends putting a couple of tablespoons into a smoothie or yogurt, and I’ve read suggestions to put it in baked goods in place of flour or oats. But I figured it would make a good breakfast porridge, too. I cooked a small quantity by itself, just to see what it was like. It tasted like…well…quinoa. It even had the little signature “strings” of cooked quinoa. But I found it to be a bit blah. Kind of like baby food.IMG_3484

So then I blended it with rolled oats and made a half-and-half porridge. I added some maple syrup to give it some flavor, and topped it off with some chopped pecans for texture. It turned out much lighter than regular oatmeal, but because quinoa has protein, it’s filling nevertheless. And because it’s lighter, I think it would make a great breakfast for someone who is sick or has stomach issues.

Here’s the recipe for my preparation:

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Quinoa-Oat Porridge

½ cup quinoa flakes
½ cup rolled oats
Pinch salt

Optional toppings:
Maple syrup
Honey
Chopped nuts
Fruit

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a small pot. Add quinoa flakes, oat, and salt; lower heat, cover, and simmer 5 minutes, or until desired thickness. You can add more water if you want it looser.

Transfer to 2 bowls. Top with whatever toppings you like.

 


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Kale-Bean Soup with Amaranth

IMG_3431With all the greens flourishing right about now, I’ve been having a craving for bean soup with greens. Why in the world would I crave soup in the dead heat of summer, you ask. I can have soup any time of the year. I absolutely love it. Yes, it can be warm and comforting in winter, but summer also calls for comfort of a different sort.

Plus, studies have shown that eating warming dishes such as soup can actually acclimate you better to the heat by elevating your body temperature, thereby making the weather more tolerable.

Anyway, someone gave me a tiny little bunch of kale and I thought that it was the perfect opportunity to make that beans-and-greens soup. I decided to add some amaranth to it—I love pasta and grains in my soup and amaranth is an exceptionally healthy choice.

Amaranth has been grown in Central and South America and consumed by the regional people for hundreds of years. It’s been an important source of protein for the indigenous people of those regions, and it is less expensive and, consequently, less controversial than quinoa.

Amaranth is a very rich source of protein, and it is more digestible than that of other grains. It’s also an excellent source of lysine, an important amino acid. Amaranth has the most calcium of any grain next to teff. It also is a better source than other grains of magnesium, iron, copper, and fiber. Amaranth is a good source of zinc, potassium, phosphorus, folate, niacin, and riboflavin, and vitamins A, C, E, K, B5, and B6, as well as antioxidants, which fight cancer. It has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, and—don’t hold me to this—helps prevent premature graying. For carb counters, it’s lower in carbs than other grains and it’s gluten free.

So, here’s my impromptu recipe for Kale-Bean Soup with Amaranth. These are approximate amounts, so use however much you like of anything. Soup is very forgiving where quantities of ingredients are concerned. Enjoy.

Kale-Bean Soup with Amaranth

Makes 4 servings.

1 small bunch kale
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ cup diced onion
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup diced tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth (or 2 cups water + 2 bouillon cubes)
¼ cup amaranth
1 cup cooked beans (whichever you prefer)

Wash the kale and remove thick stems. Chop into bite-sized pieces.

In a medium pot, heat oil; add onion, garlic, and salt. Sauté until onion is translucent, about 2 or 3 minutes.

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Add tomatoes and sauté another minute.

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Pour in broth and let it come to a boil. Add amaranth; lower heat to medium-low and simmer until is cooked, about 10 minutes.

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Add kale and beans and continue cooking until kale is tender (this can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size and “toughness” of the kale). Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve as is or with grated cheese and/or crusty bread.

 

 


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Spigarello, the Secret Broccoli

My parents have a vegetable garden. In the days when both my parents were fully healthy, so was their garden. They grew numerous things, and several varieties, including tomatoes, squash, peppers, lettuce, eggplant, basil, parsley, and mint. These days, my parents are elderly and my father’s health issues keep him from moving around too much. Consequently, their garden is kept down to whatever little they can handle. Which makes me sad on numerous levels.Spigarello

Every now and then, they tried something new, and have even gotten things growing in there that they had not planted, or they planted what they thought was one thing but got something else. A couple of summers ago, they wound up with a peach tree. To this day, they don’t know where it came from. It made the most beautiful, delicious peaches. But easy come, easy go—as mysteriously as the tree appeared, it died for no apparent reason that same year. Bizarre.Spigarello

This year, they planted what they thought was kale. But this strange leafy plant grew instead. It kind of has kale-ish leaves, but it is not kale. The plant also closely resembles broccoli rabe, but it does not have broccoli rabe’s signature mini broccoli-like heads. Nor does it have broccoli rabe’s bitterness. It just tastes kind of herbal and grassy. So, we all just happily ate this mystery plant.

Then, this past week, my friend Linda gave me something out of her CSA box. (For those of you not familiar with CSAs, it stands for community-supported agriculture. Local farms prepare boxes each week of whatever is ready to be harvested. You pay a fee and go pick up your box each week. You don’t know what you’re getting until you pick it up, and the surprise is half the fun.) This item was listed as spigarello. She had no idea what it was or what to do with it, so she gave it to me. Imagine my surprise when, upon investigation, that this is the stuff growing in my parents’ garden! Mystery solved.Spigarello

Native to southern Italy, spigarello (aka spigariello) is an heirloom broccoli variety and has been called by some websites as the “parent of broccoli rabe.” I’ve read that it’s all the rage right now in California but has been featured by some top restaurants here in New York as well, including Tom Collichio’s Craft.

Because spigarello is kin to broccoli rabe, it can be used like it. You can sauté it, put it into soups, or bake it in casseroles. But since it does not have the bitterness of broccoli rabe, it can also be used in salads without sending the bitter part of the  taste belt on your tongue into orbit.

So, here is my favorite (and the most classic) recipe for broccoli rabe (which appears in Vegetarian Italian: Traditions, Volume 1), prepared with spigarello. Thanks to Linda for providing the clue.

Sauteed Spigarello with Garlic and Red Pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Crushed red pepper to taste
1 pound spigarello (or broccoli rabe)
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

In a large pot, combine the oil, garlic, and red pepper and sauté over medium heat until the garlic is well browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the stems off the spigarello, and remove any blackened or yellowed leaves. Cut large pieces into edible lengths.

Add the spigarello, salt, and ½ cup water to the pot and stir. Continue cooking until the spigarello is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. If it gets dry, add a little more water. Transfer the spigarello and the juices to a serving platter. Season with more salt, if desired.

Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature with crusty pieces of Italian bread.

Keep leftovers in a sealed bowl in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

 

 

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