Miz Chef

Food Is Sexy—Therefore, I Cook


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


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

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.


Leave a comment

Pan-Fried Indian Eggplant


Simple ingredients call for simple preparations. I could have turned  this beautiful Indian eggplant I found into so many wonderful dishes: ratatouille, vegetable chili, eggplant lasagna, pasta with roasted eggplant, etc., etc.

Instead, I wanted to keep this pretty vegetable pretty by just pan frying it. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Have this on the side with a protein or other vegetables, over rice, tossed with pasta, or (like I did) on homemade pizza.

Pan-Fried Indian Eggplant

1 1/2 lbs. Indian (or baby or Japanese) eggplant
1/4 cup oil (olive, sunflower, grapeseed)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

IMG_3984Slice the eggplant into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Heat half the oil in a frying pan. Add some of the eggplant (don’t crowd the pan). Cook, turning them over once, until browned on both sides. Transfer to paper towels.

Repeat with remaining eggplant, adding more oil to the pan as needed (eggplant soaks up oil quickly). Sprinkle the salt over the eggplant. Enjoy!




My Exploding Nuts (Ginkgo, that is)


I went to an Asian market the other day with a list in hand. I had specific things that I needed to buy and a short amount of time in which to shop, and I wasn’t looking for anything unusual or new, the way I usually do. I had grabbed my items and was just about to head to the check-out lines when something caught my eye. They were in the refrigerated case, where Asian markets generally keep the more perishable produce, such as mushrooms, water chestnuts, chili peppers, and a host of other delicate items.IMG_4016

Tucked between packages of freeze-dried ginkgo nuts and little cartons of quail eggs and 100-year-old duck eggs were small red mesh bags with these little white things in them. Curiosity got to me and I picked one up. They looked like pistachio nuts. I looked at the sign, which read, “Ginkgo nuts.”

Interesting. I’d had the freeze-dried ones before in a a stir fry, but I’d never seen the raw, unshelled nuts before. So, yes, I bought them.IMAG2360

Ginkgo trees are the oldest living trees on earth, unchanged for more than 200 million years. Evidence shows that Chinese began cultivating it more than 1,000 years ago. Last week, I unknowingly encountered a ginkgo tree. Because it’s, its leaves were turning yellow from the top down. I thought it was so pretty that I took a photo of it, but when I got near it, I was repelled by an odor of urine. I thought, “Great, some asshole ruined the beauty of this tree by peeing on it.” I posted it on Facebook and was told by one of my former NGI classmates that this was a gingko tree and the smell is natural. It’s believed that this odor was attractive to animals at some point.

What a coincidence that I would buy ginkgo nuts the same week. I asked my friend at work how to use them and she told me that I should boil them, shell them, and peel off the skin that’s on each one. While I trusted her advice, I wondered if there were any other methods. I read that another common way to prepare them is pan frying. I decided to try both. I put half in a pot of water and boiled them for about 15 minutes, and pan fried the other half in a little bit of sunflower oil.

After placing them both on the stove, I went into the other room to check on an email. There I was, scrolling through my mail, when I hear this loud POP. As I walked back into the kitchen, there was another big POP. I had a suspicion about what was happening, so I cautiously approached the stove and sure enough, those suckers were popping right out of the pan and shooting across the room. They had become oily little projectiles and little pieces of shell landed on my counter and floor like shrapnel. I shielded my face as I approached the stove because I didn’t want to become a casualty of detonating ginkgo nuts. At arm’s length, I turned off the flame and moved the pan to the back at a safe distance. The whole thing was rather ridiculous, but I pictured getting a sharp piece of shell in my eye and wasn’t thrilled by the thought. In fact, I did get a shot of hot oil right near my eye.

IMG_4023IMG_4027While both methods turned out perfectly fine ginkgo nuts, there were a few differences. The fried ones came out with a nice golden yellow color, while the boiled ones had a smooth creamy look to them. (Pictured above, on the left are the boiled nuts; on the right are the pan fried nuts.) That one is a personal choice. However, I don’t think anyone would argue that struggling to peel skin from a nut is not a fun task. The skins, for the most part, slid off the pan fried nuts, while they stuck a little to the boiled ones. I mean, it wasn’t as difficult as removing skin from, say, hazelnuts or Brazil nuts, but I did struggle a tiny bit. A few came out looking like plaster, crumbling into dust—I assumed those were rotten. IMG_4025

To avoid the missile launch from your frying pan, I think timing the cooking would help. I had them in there for approximately 8 to 10 minutes before they started exploding, so maybe keeping them in the pan for about 5 minutes would do the trick. And cracking them first would probably prevent the fireworks, too.

I also discovered that the pan fried nuts were less bitter than the boiled nuts. So if you’re going to eat them out of hand, I suggest pan frying them. Ultimately, they just tasted better.

All of this pertains to ginkgo nuts that have been removed from the fruit. If you have access to the fruit, handle them carefully. The fruit contains urushiol, the same element that’s found in poison ivy, and may cause a skin reaction. Also, your hands will smell like cheese, I’ve been told. You should wear gloves and remove the flesh from around the nuts. The upside is that ginkgo nuts are known to stimulate the brain, staving off memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease. They’re also used in Chinese culture to help with breathing/lung problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. Chinese also believe them to be aphrodisiacs.

Whether you boil or fry them, whack them gently with a mallet (or meat tenderizer or blade of a knife, or whatever you’ve got handy). Or you can crack each one with a nut cracker. Don’t whack or crack them too hard as the nuts are rather delicate. Sprinkle them with a little sea salt and enjoy. Or add them to stir fries, soups and stews, or just about anything you would add nuts to.

The medical warnings about ginkgo nuts is that adults shouldn’t have more than 8 in one day and children should have a maximum of 5. And word on the street is that if you are allergic to cashews or mangoes, you should avoid them altogether.

Anyway, that’s the story of my exploding nuts. So, just let my stupid experience be your guide when trying this Asian specialty. Here’s hoping your nuts don’t explode.


Ginkgo Nuts for Snacking

1 small bag ginkgo nuts
1 teaspoon cooking oil
Sea salt

Rinse nuts under running water.

If frying:
Lay the nuts out on paper towels to dry.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan. Add the nuts and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until you can handle them.

If boiling:
Place nuts in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook about 10 minutes. Drain and let cool.

Lay the nuts on a dish towel. Gently whack the nuts with a mallet (or other object) so that crack. Remove the shells and skins (a paper towel may help you rub the skins off more easily).

Sprinkle with salt and enjoy (in moderation!).



Leave a comment

Celeriac Bisque with Mustard Greens and Chick Peas



This week’s catch at the farmer’s market was a nice big knob of celeriac and red mustard greens.IMAG2330

I’ve had celeriac (also known as celery root and knob celery) before, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It has a great celery flavor to it, but a little sweeter and more intense. It also has parsley notes, and that’s because it’s part of the parsley family, and not the root of the celery plant.  Like other root vegetables, it has a long shelf life (6 to 8 months in a cool place).

Celeriac is not a beauty queen, and many Americans have no clue what it is or what to do with it, but it’s a flavorful addition to anything. You can cut them up and roast them. You can add them to chilis and stews. Or you can do what many chefs do with them, and what I’ve done for the recipe below: make a bisque. It’s wonderfully creamy when pureed and combined with either apples or pears, it has a rich, complex flavor.

They’re good for you, too. Celeriac contains antioxidants, and is very a good source of vitamin K, phosphorus, iron, calcium, copper (good for the immune system, prevents anemia, and required for bone metabolism), and manganese. And it contains some B-complex vitamins, such as pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin, and some vitamin C.IMAG2335

The red mustard greens are new to me, though. They are Chinese in origin, but are also cultivated in Japan. They’re lovely to look at and just as nutritious as other mustard greens, all part of the Brassica family, along with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, etc.

Celeriac is not found everywhere simply because they are an unfamiliar item for many people. But most larger stores, like supermarkets, carry a few, as do gourmet stores, and, of course, farmer’s markets. Enjoy!

Celeriac Bisque with Mustard Greens and Chick Peas

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 lb. celeriac (celery root), peeled and diced
3 small celery ribs, coarsely chopped
2 medium apples or Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 cups vegetable broth
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 oz. mustard greens (or other greens), washed and chopped
2 cups cooked chick peas
Garnish: chopped fresh parsley (optional)


Heat oil in a medium-large sauce pan. Saute onion and garlic until translucent. Add celeriac, celery, apples or pears, and salt and saute another 5 minutes.


Pour in broth and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer until vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork.


Transfer to a blender; add parsley and puree (the soup is hot so be careful to hold the lip of the blender with a hand towel.


Pour back into pot. (Alternatively, you can add parsley to pot and use a stick blender).



Add fresh pepper, mustard greens, and chick peas. Cook another 5 minutes. Check for seasoning and serve. Sprinkle parsley on top for garnish.IMAG2342


Makes 4 servings.



Leave a comment

Sweet Potato Flour Scones


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.


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.


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


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


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.


Leave a comment

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.


Tempeh Chili Casserole with Beet Greens

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


2 teaspoons olive oil
8 oz. tempeh, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
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


Greens from one bunch beets
Olive oil


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Cover the top with cheese.


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.


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.


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


Leave a comment

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.


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.


Add potatoes and stir them in. Let cook about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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.


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.


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


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

Makes 4 servings.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 342 other followers