Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


Gorgeously Green Pasta Salad

So, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day and green is the official black for that holiday. The foodIMG_0445 world, too, suddenly turns green. We see  green bagels, green cake, and even green beer. But if all of that turns you green, here’s a recipe that keeps that particular tradition going but is a lot better for you and is gorgeously green naturally.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and may the Luck o’ the Irish be with you!

Gorgeously Green Pasta Salad

This pasta salad is open to many variations—you can add anything you want, as long as it’s green! It has several components to it, but if you’re willing to spend a little time on it, the result will truly be gorgeous, not to mention delicious. Aside from the broccoli florets, I split the string beans in half, used only the green part of the zucchini, and garnished it with zucchini curls.

1 medium head broccoli
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, small dice
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more
2 small zucchini, diced small
2 ½ cups cut string beans
2 cups peas (if frozen, thawed)
1 lb short pasta
½ lb arugula
¼ lb watercress
1 cup sliced scallions (white part only), divided
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium green bell pepper, diced small
½ cup chopped parsley

Garnish: zucchini, scallion greens, broccoli florets


1. Cut the broccoli into florets. Set aside as many “pretty” florets (they should be similarly sized). Chop the remaining florets, stems, and pieces. Blanch and shock the florets. Cook the remaining broccoli until crisp-tender; drain well.

To blanch and shock: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Set a bowl of ice water on the counter. Add the broccoli florets to the boiling water and cook for a minute or 2, until broccoli is slightly tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli to the ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, transfer to a bowl and set aside.


2. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a medium skillet; add the onion and salt, and sweat (cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent. Do not brown.)

3. Zucchini: Saute in 2 teaspoons just until tender. Transfer to a bowl; let cool.

4. String beans: Bring pot of salted water to a boil; add string beans and cook just until tender. Transfer to the ice water and let cool. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside ½ cup.

5. Peas: If fresh, cook in boiling water until just tender. If frozen, boil briefly. Drain well.

6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well and let cool.

7. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a food processor or blender, combine the arugula, watercress, ½ cup string beans that were set aside, ½ cup scallions, garlic, salt and pepper. With the machine processing, slowly add the extra-virgin olive oil until a sauce forms.

8. When pasta has cooled but is still slightly warm, add the sauce and mix well. Add the green pepper, the chopped broccoli, onion, cooked zucchini, peas, remaining string beans, and remaining scallions. Mix well. Blend in parsley. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Add whatever herbs or spices you like.

IMG_0436Makes 14 servings.


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New Year’s Dish for Luck: Black-Eyed Peas & Quinoa

This is my last post of 2013. It was a head-spinning year for me, and my calendar looks like one big ink blot from all the markings. I attended and participated in many culinary events, including “An Evening with Dorie Greenspan” and “An Evening with Mollie Katzen and Sara Moulton,” thanks to the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance (NYWCA). Rick Bayless Mollie Katzen-Sara Moulten IMAG0436I had the pleasure of cooking something out of their cookbooks for everyone to enjoy at the events.

I volunteered at the Food Network Food & Wine Festival, where I had the honor of working with Rick Bayless at  Bobby Flay’s “Tacos & Tequila” event. For Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, I was on a panel about media skills for chefs. I also attended FoodBlogSouth in Birmingham in January, went on a tour of Jacques Torres’ chocolate factory in Manhattan with Jacques himself, and attended many other fun events throughout the year.

Also this year, I took on the role of copyeditor for the NYWCA member newsletter, and I am involved with the NYWCA’s fundraising raffle taking place on February 3, “An Evening with Mollie O’Neill.” Proceeds of the raffle will go to GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Service) for young women 12–24 who have experienced sexual exploitation and abuse; Spoons Across America; WISCAH—Chef Training Program; and FamilyCook Productions—Teen Battle Chef Program. Prizes include: $1,000 OXO Gift Certificate; Wine-Pairing Dinner & Hotel for Two ($600 value); Cuisinart Elite Collection Package ($600 value); and Dinner for 8 at Murray’s Cheese Bar ($500 value). If you’re interested in attending the event and/or purchasing raffle tickets, just contact me via the form below and I’ll hook you up.

Now, onto food.

Around the world, different people have their own traditions and rituals for ringing in the New Year. And food always plays a part.

For example, in Japan, it is customary to eat soba noodles during the New Year’s celebration to ensure a long life. In many Latin American countries, as well as Spain, 12 grapes are eaten—1 for each month—and it is hoped that the grapes are sweet as a harbinger of a sweet year ahead. In many countries, legumes are popular for New Year’s because they swell when cooked, symbolizing increased financial prosperity. Lentils, particularly, are used in Italy and Brazil.

In the United States, black-eyed peas are popular (the musical group and the legume) and Hoppin’ John is a staple New Year’s dish in the South. I made my own black-eyed peas dishred quinoa salad 2 incorporating the healthy grain quinoa. And to make it more festive, I used red quinoa. So, here’s the recipe for my New Year’s Red Quinoa and Black-Eyed Peas Salad. Enjoy.

Happy New Year, everyone! Have a fun, safe time, and may 2014 bring you joy and happiness.

New Year’s Red Quinoa and Black-Eyed Peas Salad

1 1/2 cups red or white quinoa, rinsed
2 3/4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups cooked black-eyed peas
1 1/2 cups chopped bell peppers, mixed colors
5 scallions, thinly sliced
1 Haas avocado, cut into small dice
1/4 finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp flavored mustard
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the quinoa in the vegetable stock until liquid has been absorbed and grains are tender. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.

2. When quinoa has cooled, add remaining ingredients (except dressing).

3. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Mix well and adjust seasoning as desired. If it’s dry, add more oil a little at a time and mix well.


Chestnut-Chocolate-Bourbon Brownies

chestnut chocolate bourbon brownies

If you’re still looking for something to bring to the family meal for the holidays, try this one. It’s Chestnut-Chocolate-Bourbon Brownies. What gives them a seasonal touch is the chestnut spread, which is flavored with vanilla and sugar, so additional sugar is unnecessary.IMG_1840

These are the perfect party treat. Chestnut is a classic holiday ingredient, and who doesn’t love brownies? As for the bourbon…well, let’s just say it makes the holidays go down easier.

You can find the chestnut spread at gourmet shops (I found mine at Dean & Deluca in Manhattan).

For those of you who celebrate, I hope that you have a wonderful, joyous Christmas, or a bountiful, happy Kwanzaa.

Chestnut-Chocolate-Bourbon Brownies

Makes 16 servings

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate or 1 cup bittersweet chips
1 can chestnut spread
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan and line it with parchment.


Melt chocolate in a double boiler or an aluminum bowl set over a pot of simmering water.


In a medium bowl, combine the chestnut spread and butter. Stir to break up butter. Stir in egg, then bourbon and melted chocolate. Add flour and baking powder and stir just until blended.


Transfer batter to baking pan. Bake 45 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean. If top get dark before cake is done, cover with aluminum foil.


Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes, then lift cake out of pan using parchment and place on rack. Let cool completely. Cut into 2-inch squares.


15 Things to Do With Leftover Stuffing

Well, now that another Thanksgiving has come and gone, many of us are left with the stuffingserious question of what to do with all those leftovers, especially the stuffing (or dressing, depending on where you are). Personally, I just eat it the way it is for days. But others want to use their leftovers in different and creative ways. So, here are some ideas for using up all that delicious stuffing in your fridge.

These ideas will work with any kind of bread or cornbread stuffing. Other kinds of stuffing (such as those based on rice or other grains) may or may not work, depending on the recipe and what you add to it.

I’d love to hear from you and find out what you made with your leftovers this year.

15 Things to Do With Leftover Stuffing

  1. Stuffed Peppers (Cut the peppers in half, remove the seeds and membranes, and press the stuffing into the cavities. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until peppers have softened.)
  2. Frittata (Beat 6 eggs and stir in about a cup of stuffing. Cook in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat until underside has browned. Flip over or place in a 350 degree oven until other side has browned.)
  3. Turkey casserole (Replace the rice or bread in your favorite turkey casserole recipe with stuffing.)
  4. Dumplings for soup, stew, or chili (Mix 1 beaten egg into 4 cups stuffing and roll into balls. If too loose, add breadcrumbs. Drop into soup, stew, or chili and let cook.)
  5. Vegetable pie (Using the stuffing as the bottom layer where mashed potatoes would be used.)
  6. Stuffing cakes (Flatten stuffing into a patties and pan fry; serve with leftover cranberry sauce or gravy.)
  7. Turkey sandwich with stuffing (Self-explanatory.)
  8. Stuffed artichokes (Trim artichokes. Press stuffing between the leaves. Place in a baking pan with a 1/2 inch of water in the bottom and cover with foil. Bake at 375 degrees until tender.)
  9. Stuffed chicken breasts. (Flatten chicken breasts with a mallet. Place a tablespoon or two of stuffing and roll up the chicken. Pan fry or bake until cooked through.)
  10. Vegetable calzone (Make your favorite calzone recipe and just mix some stuffing into the vegetables.)
  11. Vegetarian meatballs (Add 1 beaten egg to 4 cups stuffing. Add grated tempeh or crumbled tofu and, if you like, some grated cheese. Pan fry or bake at 350 degrees until browned.)
  12. Rice balls (Add stuffing to any kind of rice–this is a good way to also use leftover rice–and roll into balls. Dip in beaten eggs and roll in breadcrumbs. Pan fry or baked at 350 degrees until lightly browned and heated through.)
  13. Vegetable sauté (Make your favorite vegetable saute recipe and mix in some stuffing. Keep cooking until well blended and heated through.)
  14. Meatloaf or Veggie Meatloaf (Replace the breadcrumbs in your favorite meatloaf recipe with stuffing. If the stuffing is moist, reduce the amount of any liquid you use.)
  15. Veggie burgers (Mix stuffing into your prepared vegetables. Form patties and cook as you normally would.)

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Cranberry Sauce with a Sorghum Twist

cranberry enhancedWell, here we are again, preparing for that iconic American holiday, the Most Important Meal of the Year: Thanksgiving.

Every year, I make fresh cranberry sauce. Some people prefer the canned variety to freshly made, but when I see that gelled log with can rings around it, I can’t help but feel that I can do better. In fact, anyone can. Fresh cranberry sauce is extremely simple, and the end product is so much better than the canned log. (Although, I know some of you feel like it’s truly not a traditional Thanksgiving without that log with the rings around it, so I say, whatever floats your boat.)

Cranberries are a tart fruit and cranberry sauce requires plenty of sugar to make it palatable enough for most people. But I always cringe a little when I start dumping the amount of sugar that most recipes call for into my pot of cranberries. So, this year, I decided to try some of the sorghum molasses that I brought up from a trip to the South.

The recipe I’ve always used calls for 2 cups granulated sugar. That’s a lot of sugar. So, I started with 1 cup brown sugar. Brown sugar is a nicer product to use than granulated sugar because it lend the sauce a delicate molasses flavor and it thickens it up better. My sauce was still a little too tart, but I really didn’t want to add any more sugar, so I reached for the sorghum molasses. I started with 2 tablespoons and I liked the results. However, I knew that most people would want it sweeter (I don’t have a big sweet tooth), so I added 2 more tablespoons. It worked wonderfully.

Sorghum molasses is a Southern staple, but it can be found in specialty stores elsewhere in the U.S. If you can’t find it, substitute brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, or honey (the honey will be sweeter than the others).

If you’re looking for that cloying candy-sweet taste of canned cranberry sauce, this isn’t it. But if you want something that is a little more complex, texturally pleasing, and not as loaded with refined sugar, give this a try.


Cranberry Sauce with a Sorghum Twist

Makes 3 cups

1 16-oz. package fresh cranberries
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
¼ cup sorghum molasses
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon nutmeg or ground cloves
1 whole star anise
Tiny pinch sea salt

Combine all ingredients with 1 ½ cups water in a 2-quart pot. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to low and simmer until cranberries start to pop. Continue simmering and stirring for about 5 minutes, smashing the cranberries along the sides of the pot (you can leave some whole). Taste and adjust sweetener level to your taste.

Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer to a jar or bowl and refrigerate until needed. Remove the cinnamon stick and star anise before serving or use them for garnish.

Variation: Add a tablespoon of raspberry or cherry liqueur or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract.

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GF Pumpkin-Coconut-Walnut Cupcakes

’Tis the season for pumpkin.

As we enter November, everyone loves finding new recipes that use pumpkin. And when the recipes are gluten-free, that makes a whole lotta people happy.

A friend of mine asked me to make cupcakes to bring to a bridal shower. This friend has health issues that necessitate her to be on a gluten-free diet and she asked that I make the cupcakes gluten free, and she specifically requested pumpkin. I came up with this recipe, and they were a hit.

I took the basic combination of ingredients for pumpkin cake and altered the recipe to make it less sweet than most cakes and, of course, gluten free. Actually, I should probably say “low gluten” instead because I substituted all-purpose flour with spelt flour. Spelt is a low-gluten wheat variant, so most people with wheat sensitivities can tolerate spelt, but those with full-blown Celiac Disease usually cannot.

I also wanted to make it lower in sugar, so I cut back on the amount called for in most pumpkin cake recipes. And because I substituted brown sugar for white, it made it a little fluffier and more flavorful.

Now here’s where I had to make a decision between a whole-food/holistic diet versus a weight loss diet. In the first category lies the basic tenet that you should eat foods in their whole forms—i.e., all its edible parts. In the case of dairy, that means with full fat. When fat is removed from dairy, the enzymes which make it digestible are also removed, making it a bigger issue for lactose-intolerant people than full-fat dairy would be.

BUT everyone is concerned about their weight, cholesterol, etc. My friend was concerned about bringing the cupcakes to the shower in the first place because the bride is overweight. She asked me if I could make them even lower in sugar than the samples I brought her. I told her that if I took out any more sugar, they would taste like nothing. Then she asked me if I could keep the frosting off, and I explained that cupcakes without frosting are muffins and hardly party fare. At first, I offered to try and experiment with alternate sweeteners (honey, applesauce, maple syrup, maple crystals) but I was faced with a time crunch. Experimenting like that—substituting ingredients that are vastly different than the original—often takes multiple tries to get right. I didn’t have the luxury of time in which to do that.

So, to compensate, I made the decision to use low-fat cream cheese for the frosting. My teachers at the Natural Gourmet Institute would tsk-tsk me, I’m sure. But I think they would also agree that we have to compromise sometimes—they themselves taught me that we can’t be “good” one hundred percent of the time. All we can do is do our best as often as possible. So, here’s my recipe for a gluten-free, low-sugar, low-fat (not vegan) but really delicous (no, really!) Pumpkin-Coconut-Walnut Cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.


Pumpkin-Coconut-Walnut Cupcakes

Yield: 20 cupcakes

3 cups spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 to 2 cups brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
4 eggs
1 (15-oz. can) pumpkin
2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
½ cup desiccated (unsweetened) coconut
¾ cup chopped walnuts


¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 (8-oz.) packages low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 20 paper muffin cups into muffin tins.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

3. In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating in each one before adding the next. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and beat until well blended. (The mixture will look curdled but that’s okay.)

4. At low speed, add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the pumpkin mixture. Increase speed and beat until well blended. Fold in the coconut and walnuts.

5. Place about ¼ cup of the batter into each paper cup. (Pour water into any empty muffin wells, about ¼ of the way up, to prevent them from scorching.)

6. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to racks and let cool completely. Meanwhile make the frosting.

7. Beat the butter until white and fluffy. Beat in the cream cheese and then the vanilla. Begin adding the sugar a little at a time; alternate beating at low speed (when first adding the sugar) and high speed (to blend it in well). Stop adding when you’ve reached the consistency you want. Continue beating until completely smooth.

8. When cupcakes have cooled, spread or pipe on the frosting. Decorate as desired.

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Jamaican Black Cake, aka Christmas Cake

As stunned as I am that it’s late September, I have to face the fact that summer is over. With that comes the realization that it’s time to start my Jamaican black cake, which is also called Christmas cake.

Jamaican Black Cake

Jamaican Black Cake

Several years ago, a co-worker, who was from Jamaica, introduced me to black cake and I asked her for a recipe, which I shared on Epicurean.com. It’s a tradition in Jamaica (and other parts of the West Indies) to serve this cake at Christmas, as well as weddings and other special occasions.

The problem is that in order to get a really good black cake, you have to begin the process at least several weeks in advance, and who’s thinking about Christmas in September? (Okay, well, many of you probably start your Christmas shopping in July, but the way my life has been going the past several years, my thoughts about Christmas have had me on the brink of nervous breakdowns trying to find gifts on Christmas Eve.)

Black cake/Christmas cake is also sometimes called plum pudding because it’s derived from the traditional British Christmas cake of the same name. Plum pudding is basically fruit cake and it was soaked in brandy to keep it fresh on long voyages across the seas. (Plum pudding is traditionally lit aflame at presentation time. I suspect that this was done the first time by accident as a result of being so soused in brandy and someone getting too close to it with a candle or something.) When the British began trading through the Caribbean, the plum pudding went with them. But rum, rather than brandy, was the liquor available on the islands, and sugar and molasses became the sweeteners. The addition of allspice and nutmeg are more Island touches on the old recipe.

It is said that the original recipe for plum pudding dates to Medieval times, when it called for 13 ingredients—1 for Jesus Christ and 12 for his apostles—and was to be made on Christmas Eve. Since then, it’s become a more elaborate affair. As with other fruit cakes, a black cake contains various dried fruits that are macerated in rum and, sometimes, port wine for weeks. The ideal time to bake it is a couple of weeks before Christmas, and as the days go by, it’s periodically basted with more booze.

The photos here are from last year, so that you can see the process from start to finish. So, in September, I put my fruit—raisins, golden raisins, plums, figs, dates, and cranberries—in a large container with a cover and poured in a wee bit of rum and port wine and let that sit until December. About a week before Christmas (I couldn’t get around to it before then), I baked the cake, basted it a few times, and brought it for Christmas Eve dinner. It came out really, really good. It’s not like any fruit cake you’ve ever had, I guarantee it. Normally, black cake is served as is, but I wanted it to look a little more festive so I iced it with a basic powdered sugar icing (which eventually melted). The only thing was that my cake was not as dark as it should be (it is called black cake, after all). I was told to increase the amount of browning or molasses. This recipe contains the increased amounts. (Browning is also known as burnt sugar and can be found in West Indian markets.)

Give it a shot. This is one fruit cake that will not get passed around. Enjoy!

Christmas Cake (Jamaican Black Cake)

4 cups mixed dried fruits (raisins, currants, prunes, citron, cherries, dates)
3 cups port wine
3 cups white rum (preferably Appleton)
1/2 lb. butter
1 cup brown sugar
6 eggs
12 oz. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp browning
1/4 molasses
1 tsp Benjamin vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp lemon juice

Preparing Fruits for Baking:

Wash fruit well. Soak fruits in 2 cups port wine and 2 cups rum for at least 4 weeks before baking.

Soaking the fruit

Soaking the fruit

To bake the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Grease a 10-inch baking tin with butter or margarine. Line the tin with wax paper.

3. Mix butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

4. Add eggs, one at a time, and continue beating until mixture is smooth.

Dried fruit after soaking several weeks

Dried fruit after soaking several weeks

5. Add flour and baking powder and continue to mix.

6. Blend in browning, molasses, vanilla, almond, nutmeg, allspice, and lemon juice.

7. In a blender or processor, grind fruits and add to mixture.

8. Add 1 cup rum and 1 cup wine and mix well. Place in oven.

Baked Black Cake

Baked Black Cake

Cake is baked when a knife is inserted into center of cake and comes out clean. Check cake after an hour. This will make approximately 4 lbs. of cake. If you’re baking it weeks or months in advance, continue basting it periodically with wine. Decorate if you wish, but it can be served as is.

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Cucumber Mango Mint Shooter

I can’t believe it, but tomorrow is Labor Day. This summer was a non-summer, what with all the rain and cold days. Then again, there have been some gorgeous weekends recently, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.

Doesn’t change the fact that the summer is over. I can hear the Friday night fireworks at Coney Island from my house and this past Friday was the last one of the season. When I hear that final, cacophonous thunder that marks the end of not only of the week’s display but of the summer’s, it always makes me a little sad.

Cucumber Mango Mint Shooter

Cucumber Mango Mint Shooter

But Americans do not go gently into that goodbye of summer. Labor Day means picnics, barbecues, beach parties, and lots of food and fun. And I have just the cocktail to go with it all. It makes use of summer goodies, like cucumber, mango, and mint, but it makes a great cocktail for the coming holidays, too. And because cucumber and mint are also considered a restorative and a digestive, respectively, it makes a great after-dinner cocktail for Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Cucumber Mango Mint Shooter

Makes 4.

1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 mango, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon mint leaves
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon lime juice
¼ cup melon liqueur
4 mint sprigs (optional)

1. Place cucumber, mango, mint, maple syrup, and lime juice in a food processor or blender. Process until fully pureed.

2. Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Pour mixture into strainer and let it drip through. Press down on pulp with a rubber spatula to strain as much liquid out as possible. Whisk in  liqueur.

3. Pour into shot glasses, top with mint sprig, and serve.