Miz Chef

Food Is Sexy—Therefore, I Cook


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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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Remembrances of Meals Past

…and why it’s a good thing to give in to your cravings once in a while.

Disclaimer: What you are about to read is not scientific fact or founded on anything logical or reasonable. They are just my own conclusions based on excruciating experience.

It’s the start of a new year and millions of people all over the world are now beginning that never-ending quest to lose weight and get in shape by going on a diet. So, in honor of that, I’d like to offer my own personal tip, a lesson that I learned by doing it.The_Ricotta_eaters-Vincenzo_Campi-MBA_Lyon_H673-IMG_0324

It’s an established fact that if you are on a diet but allow yourself to have a bit of what you crave, it will satisfy that itch, help you to stop thinking about it, and allow you to move on. And I have found that to be true.

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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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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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