Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Kale & Creamy Avocado Dressing

Summer is finally here, and with the coming of sunshine and warm breezes comes the need for pasta salad. After all, you need something easy to bring to all those picnics, barbecues, and beach parties, right?

Pasta salad, however, need not be fattening or unhealthy. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. This pasta salad calls for whole wheat pasta, which already is healthier than regular pasta salad, but you can use gluten-free pasta as well. Rather than mayo or other fat-laden dressing, this one uses avocado. It makes the pasta creamy, rich, and loaded with nutrients (plus some good fat). Add raw kale to the mix and you’ve got a healthy, but delicious, alternative.

Kale can be tough, but squeezing kale with avocado softens the leaves. The salt in the dressing further breaks down the cell walls of the kale, helping it along its journey to tenderness.

This is an excellent start to the summer. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Kale & Creamy Avocado Dressing

Makes 4 servings.

8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups whole wheat pasta
2 teaspoons table salt
2 Haas avocados
2 tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 packed kale leaves, shredded*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ cup grated parmesan

Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil in a small bowl. Spread the tomatoes out on a small baking sheet lined with foil and roast until soft and charred, about 20 minutes.Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and table salt and bring to a boil. Boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente, about 8 to 12 minutes (depending on what pasta you choose). Drain and set it aside while you prepare the sauce.

In a food processor, combine the meat from the avocados, lime juice, 1 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Process until smooth.Place the kale in a medium bowl. Pour the avocado sauce over it and squeeze the kale with your hand until everything is well blended. Mix in the balsamic and red pepper flakes, if you’re using it.Add the cooked pasta and parmesan and mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust it to your liking.Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

*To shred kale, first strip the leaves off the stems by lightly pinching the stem and running your fingers down the stem to the tip, pulling the leaves off along the way. Stack a few leaves and roll them up into a tight log. With a sharp knife, slice the kale thinly.

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Green Tea Noodle Soup

I found green tea noodles the other day and wanted to immediately try them. Green and slender, they not only looked pretty in the package, but I imagined that they would look very appetizing cooked. And I was right. The pale green of the cooked noodles makes for a striking and unique-looking dish. Unlike many noodles made with products other than flour, you can actually taste the green tea in these. It’s sutble, but eaten without other ingredients to mask it, it’s definitely there. While it’s not the best way to cosume green tea, it is another way to benefit, even if just a little, from green tea’s antitoxin properties.Another ingredient in this dish is ume vinegar is a Japanese vinegar made from umeboshi plums. Umeboshi are pickled and are considered an amazing preventative and curative for various ailments, including fatigue and digestive issues, and eliminates toxins from the body. Ume vinegar gives the soup a sweet-sour fruity note. If you can’t find ume vinegar, simply omit it—you don’t have to substitute anything.

Enjoy!

Green Tea Noodle Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 bunches scallions, sliced (white and light green; dark set aside)
2 teaspoons oil
1 cup finely diced carrot 10 oz. green tea noodles
2 cups shredded cabbage
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 cups vegetable broth
8 oz. green beans, chopped
1 ½ cups shelled edamame
10 oz. green tea noodles
1 teaspoon ume vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari, shoyu, or soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Slice the white and light green parts of the scallions and set aside in a small bowl. Slice the dark part of the scallions and set aside in another small bowl.

In a medium-large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the white/light green scallions and sauté until softened, 1 to 2 minutes.Add the carrot, cabbage, and salt, and sauté until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Add the string beans and edamame. Cook until tender, about 8 minutes.Add the noodles and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the shoyu and sesame oil.Divide the soup among serving bowls and sprinkle green scallion over the top. Serve hot. If you like your soup with more liquid, add more broth or less noodles.


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Celery Root Bisque with Oats

 

Celery root, also known as celeriac or knob celery, is one of those vegetables that confounds many people. What is it? Is it really the root of the celery plant? What do you do with it? What does it taste like?

Celery root is related to celery, but it’s a different variety. Whereas celery is cultivated for its stalks and leaves, celeriac is cultivated for the root. Its flavor is definitely celery-like, only deeper and earthier. It’s kind of off-putting in its appearance—big, bulbous, knobby, and usually dirt-encrusted—and is not used as commonly as other root vegetables. But like so many overlooked vegetables, it’s rising in popularity.

As to what you can do with it, many things. You roast them, saute them, gratinee them, use them in soups and stews, and, as in this recipe below, puree them for a smooth, silky bisque.

Celery root bisque is often thickened with potatoes, but I’ve chosen instead to use oats, a trick I learned in culinary school. Oats not only increases the soups nutrition factor, but also makes it less starchy.

Speaking of nutrition, celery root contains vitamin C, vitamin K,  vitamin B-6, potassium, phosphorus, and fiber. It’s been shown to be beneficial for bone health, heart health, and lowering the risk of diabetes.

Enjoy!

Celery Root Bisque with Oats

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 large celery root knobs
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups chopped celery
½ cup chopped shallots
1 tablespoon kosher salt
5 cups vegetable broth
1/3 cup rolled oats
½ cup parsley*
2 tablespoons fresh thyme*
Freshly ground pepper to taste

*Don’t worry about chopping the herbs or if you have some stems. They’re going to be pureed.

Peel the celery root with a knife or vegetable peeler. Cut up the roots into cubes (you should get about 10 cups). Heat the oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the celery and shallots and ½ teaspoon of the salt and sauté until softened, about 5 or 6 minutes.Add the celery root and 1 teaspoon salt and stir. Pour in the broth and add oats. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, until the celery root is tender, about 40 minutes. Stir occasionally.Stir in the parsley and thyme and remaining salt.Transfer the soup in batches to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour each batch into a bowl. When all the batches are in the bowl, stir it to blend. Add pepper and stir. Taste the soup for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if desired.If you’ve made the soup ahead of time, pour it back into the pot and heat gently over medium-low heat before serving.

Keep it stored covered in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

 


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Balsamic Roasted Japanese Yams

Japanese yams, also known as satsumaimo, are considered a type of sweet potato. They have a purplish skin, but unlike the sweet potatoes Westerners are used to, Japanese yams have a whitish flesh. They are sweeter than white potatoes but less sweet than orange sweet potatoes. (I don’t call sweet potatoes yams because, really, yams are a completely different thing. But I won’t go there right now.)

Although Japanese yams are low in protein, they are high in vitamins and minerals, such as A and C and potassium and fiber, antioxidants. And it is said by some that they have anti-aging effects. I don’t know if that last part is true, but Japanese yams still make a healthy alternative to white potatoes, and even standard sweet potatoes. They’re perfect for anyone with wheat issues, or who are on low-calorie diets because, yep, they’re low in calories, too.

A lot of fuss has been made around Japanese yams in the last few years. In fact, there’s even a diet with Japanese yams as the focus. They have been touted as a powerhouse health food. I’m clueless as to the validity of this belief, but what I do know is that they’re delicious, and including them in your meal plan is another way to diversify your vegetable intake.

This recipe is very quick and easy and makes for a flavorful side dish for any meal. Enjoy!

Balsamic Roasted Japanese Yams

Makes 4-6 servings.

2 lbs. Japanese yams, rinsed
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Trim the ends off the yams and discard. Slice the yams into ½-inch circles and place them in a medium bowl.In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour this over the yams and mix well so that all the yams are coated.Get a piece of foil large enough to enclose all the yams and lay it flat. Transfer the yams to the foil and close it tightly to form a packet. (If you can’t do it with 1 piece of foil, then make 2 packets.)

Place the packet(s) on a baking sheet and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until they’re tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. (You will have to open up the foil to test them.)When they’re tender, open the foil carefully (the steam will be hot and can burn you) and spread it out flat. Spread the yams out as evenly as possible, and put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes to brown. Turn them over halfway through to get both sides browned. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle them with more salt, if desired.

Transfer them to a serving platter. Serve immediately.


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Cherry Tomato Confit

If you’ve ever had roasted tomatoes, you know about the incredibly sweet, smoky flavor they have. Roasting any vegetable renders its sugars, and results in heightened flavors and vivid colors. The flavor of roasted tomatoes is deep and intense, and goes well with so many dishes.

The word confit is French and means “to preserve.” It’s usually used in relation to meats—as in duck confit, chicken confit, etc.—and it means to cook the meat slowly in its own juices (or other meat juices), along with salt and seasonings. The meat is then shredded and packed in a container and covered with fat to preserve it. This method was created for long-term storage before refrigeration was invented.

But fruits and vegetables can be confited as well. It’s extremely easy to make a tomato confit. All you need to do is mix the tomatoes with some olive oil and some seasonings and put them in the oven and walk away. They roast low and slow, and when they’re done, they’re literally bursting with flavor.

You can put some tomato confit on pieces of toast, drizzle it with olive oil, and sprinkle the tops with parmesan cheese for a great canape or snack.  You can use them on focaccia or in a sandwich, or just served by themselves.

Enjoy!Cherry Tomato Confit

Makes 1½ cups.

2 cups cherry and/or pear tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for the jar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
Herbs of your choice, fresh or dry (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, etc.)
2 or 3 large garlic cloves, smashed

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients and mix.Spread the tomatoes and herbs out on a small-medium baking sheet. (You can line it with foil or parchment, if you like.)Bake for 1 hour. Stir the tomatoes, then bake for another 1½ hours. The tomatoes should be wrinkled and easily burst when poked with the tip of a knife. Some tomatoes may burst while in the oven, and some may brown a bit. This is not only okay, it’s deliciously desirable.Transfer everything to a clean, pint-size jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour in any oil and juices from the pan. Pack in it gently. Cover the tomatoes with oil. Seal. Tomatoes will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.


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Giant Pear Squash with Cannellini

The squash family has many variations. There are the well-known types, such as butternuts, sweet dumplings, kabocha, spaghetti, zucchini, pattypan, and numerous others. But there are so many lesser know varieties, some you would never see except when they appear in neighbors’ gardens.

Giant pear squash

If you visit farmers’ markets, you can find some other squash varieties, but you won’t generally find them in most stores. However, every once in a while, an unusual type will show up in my local produce market. And that’s exactly what happened with the giant pear squash.

Giant pear squash is so called because…well, take a look at it. It’s aptly named. (Yes, it really is as big as it looks in the photo. The photo is not distorted in any way.) It has a very mild flesh, somewhat similar to yellow summer squash. It can easily be used in any dish that requires a mild squash, or as a substitute for zucchini.

You want to cut out the spongy core of the giant pear squash. Not because it’s inedible, but because it contains seeds that are too hard to eat. They kind of look like chulpe, a Peruvian dried corn (see photos below).

Squash seeds, fresh

Squash seeds, dried

Chulpe corn

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Summer Tomato-Cucumber Salad

Well, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, summer is coming to a close. Garden aficionados are gathering up the final crops of their summer vegetables and herbs, and are preparing their autumn and winter larders.

But there’s still time to enjoy some summer savory dishes. Pick some tomatoes and snap off a cucumber (or get them at the farmers’ market) to make this simple, yet savory, classic dish. Plan one last picnic or barbecue, soak in the warm sun while it lasts, and serve this to hold you over until next year. Pretty soon, it will be time for pumpkins, fireplaces, and warm fleece blankets. And that’s a different kind of joy.

Summer Tomato-Cucumber Salad

1 cup cherry or pear tomatoes, halved
½ medium cucumber, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Few leaves fresh basil

Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.

Serve at room temperature. You can make this a few hours ahead of time. Keep it stored  tightly sealed in the refrigerator.