Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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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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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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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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Papalo, the Unsung Cilantro

I just love finding new items to try. I was at the farmer’s market one day and saw something called papalo. I’d never heard of it and had no idea how to use it, but I bought a bundle and did some research.

Papalo leaf

Papalo leaf

Turns out that papalo is an herb that grows wild in Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. Most popular in Mexican cooking (although it’s also used in South American cuisines), it’s been compared closely to cilantro. It looks nothing like cilantro but its flavor is mildly cilantro-like with citrus overtones. In fact, it is often used in dishes in place of cilantro. It tends to be used in raw applications more than cooked ones, and is especially popular in salsas and guacamole.

There’s a traditional Puebla sandwich made with meat, avocado, and chiles, varying with tomatoes, cheese, and onions, and always papalo. As far as I’ve been able to determine, this sandwich is called a cemita, which is also a general word (in Spanish) for “sandwich.”

The word papalo comes from the Native American Nahuatl word for butterfly, papalotl. (Interestingly, it’s similar to the French word for butterfly, papillon.) But I’ve come across numerous names for papalo, including Bolivian coriander (coriander being the word for cilantro in many countries), butterfly weed, pápaloquelite, tepegua, quillquiña, quirquiña, and killi.Papalo

Despite the prevailing belief that papalo should not be cooked, I used it in a batch of vegetarian chili and, predictably, it gave it a citrusy note. The chili seemed somehow “fresher” and more summery. That’s obviously my own association with the flavor profile of the chili but the papalo definitely gave it a nice little zing.

Here’s a recipe for a simple tomatillo salsa, using papalo. Let me know what you think.

Simple Tomatillo Salsa with Papalo

½ lb. tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 small jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and finely minced
¼ cup minced papalo leaves
¼ cup finely minced white onion
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
Sea salt to taste

Finely chop the tomatillos and place in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Chill for at least ½ hour to allow the flavors to blend.

 


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Apple Corn Muffins

You know me—always picking up some odd thing or another in the plethora of ethnic markets throughout New York City.IMG_2510

This time, it was canned apples in sugar syrup from my favorite Indian market in Jackson Heights, Queens. Normally, I don’t buy canned fruit, much less anything in sugar syrup. But it just caught my attention on the shelf and I was curious about what they tasted like and what their appeal was. So, I bought a can.

Okay, now I know that it states right there on the can that they’re packed in sugar syrup. But I was not prepared for the cloying sweetness that almost put me into a diabetic coma. Yowza.

So, this is what I did. I drained the apples from the syrup and threw together a quick cornbread mix and made muffins. I found that the cornbread balanced out some of that sweetness. Keep the syrup for another recipe (for example, poke holes in a cake and pour the syrup over the top, or strain it and use it for a cocktail).IMG_2512

Here’s my recipe. It’s really easy and quick and a great way to use those canned apples that everyone has lying around. I mean, don’t you have them in your pantry?

Do not add sugar to the cornbread mix—it will make the muffins over-the-top sweet. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!IMG_2522

Apple Corn Muffins

1 cup fine cornmeal
¼ cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
pinch salt ¼ cup milk
1 egg
1 container apples in syrup, drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 6-cup muffin tin.

In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk together.

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Add milk and egg and whisk in. Fold in apples just until all apples incorporated.

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Divide batter into cups of muffin tin.

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Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes; turn out onto wire rack.

Makes 6 muffins.IMG_2523

 

 

 


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Cassava Bread

cassava bread 1 cassava bread  2I’m always finding new products to try, and this week, it was cassava bread.

Prior to buying this product, I had seen, and even made, bread made out of cassava, but it was not what is known on the market as “cassava bread.” This particular bread—a typical product in the Dominican Republic—is dry, flat, and cracker-like. It’s quite plain and meant to be eaten as an accompaniment to meats and stews. (What’s funny is that the store where I bought it had it stacked on a shelf in the produce aisle. Um, sure. You know, plantains, potatoes, and cassava bread all go together, right?)

I asked a Dominican friend at work about it when I brought back from the store during my lunch breadk. She warned me that it’s very plain, and she was right. The texture was dry and hard, and the flavor (if it can be called that) is that of saltless toast. But that makes sense. When eating a spicy stew or sauce-covered meat, this bread is probably just right as a counter balance. I tried mine with tomatoes and olive oil, like a bruschetta. It wasn’t bad. It probably does better when left to soak up stew juices, though.

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Photo: Melissa’s Produce

Cassava, by the way, also goes by the names yuca, manioc, and tapioca. It’s a staple food for South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Africa, and it can be used fresh (i.e., the root) or as a flour (sometimes called tapioca starch). It’s a creamy white root, very starchy, and pretty bland. But it cooks up like a potato and is extremely versatile. It’s not the prettiest root in town, but it’s filling and is a great vehicle for all kinds of flavors. And it’s gluten free!

And, yes, it’s the same tapioca they use to make tapioca pearls from. That’s what you need for pudding and bubble tea. 🙂

Have you ever eaten cassava bread? How did/do you eat it? I love to learn about how ethnic foods are eaten, so please share.


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Kantola Secret

Okay, that was a very bad play on words. Forgive me. But kantola is a secret, at least to the Western world.

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Kantola

Kantola, also known as spiny gourd, is a member of the gourd family and is used mainly in India and parts of South Asia. I saw them in my favorite Indian market and was fascinated. I bought a few and looked up how to use them.

Most recipes I found called for slicing and frying them, or, occasionally, boiling them. I decided to fry them for my first experiment, but kept the spices to a minimum, since I wanted to taste their natural flavor. I added a little salt, a bit of crumbled chile flakes, and a dash of turmeric, since that seems to be the spice de rigueur for this vegetable. Some sources said to peel them, while others said not to peel them. I peeled a couple and found it to be tedious because they’re so small. In the end, the skin was not an issue.IMG_1254

So, I sliced up the kantola and, as you can see, they have seeds very much like squash or cucumber (also part of the gourd family).IMG_1256

I heated up some oil (I found this extra virgin olive oil-sunflower oil and I wanted to give I a try). I toasted the chile flakes, then added the kantola and, after a minute, the seasonings. Then I transferred them to a paper towel to drain.IMG_1257

And you know what? They tasted like—surprise—fried squash. The flavor was very mild, although a few had a slightly bitter aftertaste, but it wasn’t unpalatable.

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So, that was my timid first adventure with kantola. I’m going to go get some more and just go crazy. Maybe I’ll even mix them with other ingredients!