Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


Battered Squash Blossoms

Last week, I offered a recipe for Squash Blossom Frittata. Squash blossoms are the flowers that grow on any squash plant, including zucchini, butternut, pumpkin, sweet dumpling, and others. They’re used frequently along the Mediterranean—particularly popular in Italy, Greece, and Turkey—and in Mexico, where they’re called flor de calabaza (squash plants are native to the New World).

They’re a summer delicacy that can easily be obtained…if you grow your own squash or know someone who does. Otherwise, you’ll have to seek them out at farmers’ markets or specialty markets.

They’re not sold in most markets because they’re extremely fragile and don’t last very long. Handle them gently and use them quickly, preferably within 2 days. To clean them, cut off the stems close to the base. Open them gently with your fingers and check for insects. If you see insects, shake them out. If necessary, run them under a fine stream of running water and then  shake them out gently. If you can, remove the stamens (the long piece inside) as they can harbor insects.

Let them sit on paper towels to dry. If you’re not using them right away, place them in a plastic bag and close it loosely. Store them in the refrigerator.

In Italy, they’re called fiori di zucca. Although they are used in many different ways, the traditional, and most popular, way to use them in Italian cuisine is to batter and fry them. That’s the recipe I’m offering today.


Battered Squash Blossoms

2 dozen squash blossoms
4 large eggs
Pinch sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour

Cooking oil (See Note below)

Clean the squash blossoms by gently shaking out insects and running the blossoms under a gentle stream of water. Lay them out on paper towels or kitchen towel to dry.

Place a large platter or a couple of large plates near the stove and line them with paper towels.

Beat the eggs together with the salt and pepper.Place the flour in a shallow dish.Heat about a half inch oil in a wide frying pan.

While it’s heating, prepare a few blossoms. Dip a blossom in the egg, coating both sides. Let the egg drip off. Next, dredge it in flour; shake off the excess. Do a few more and set them aside.When the oil is very hot, place a few blossoms in the pan and cook until the undersides are lightly browned, about 30 to 40 seconds. Turn them over with tongs and cook until other sides are lightly browned, another 15 to 20 seconds.Transfer them to the paper towels. Continue with the rest of the blossoms. Serve hot.Store any leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Heat in the oven or a toaster oven.Note: If you want to bake them instead of frying them, lay them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Batter the blossoms as instructed above. Using a pastry brush, pat the blossoms with oil. Bake them at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

I like to open the larger flowers out before placing them in the oil. It makes for a lovely presentation.


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Tuscan Kale-Bean Soup with Fregola



Tuscan Kale

Tuscan kale is a beautiful specimen of the kale family. The leaves are long and dainty looking, and look really pretty in a garden. But like standard kale, the leaves are hearty and the stems tough. Thick stems should be cut off and the leaves need to cook for a substantial amount of time (versus greens such s spinach or chard, which cook down in a few minutes).

Continue reading

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Picnic Posole Salad

posole text

I’ve been making posole salad for picnics, parties, and barbecues years. I think people enjoy it because it’s both something different from the usual fare, while offering something familiar and not too “out there.”


Dried hominy

So what is posole (or pozole)? Not everyone outside of the Latin community is familiar with posole. Posole means “hominy” (from the Nahuatl word pozolle), and actually refers to a stew, popular in Mexico and made with hominy and pork or chicken. But it is sometimes also used (loosely and unofficially) to refer to the hominy itself, which is properly called mote. Corn, in general, is known as maize.

Mote is maize that has had its hulls removed through a process known as nixtamalization. This involves boiling the kernels in a water-and-lime (or ash) solution. The resulting product is used in many traditional dishes throughout Latin America, the most commonly known being posole stew, a dish that goes back to the pre-Colombian Aztecs. Continue reading

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Colcannon—An Irish Mash

Irish cuisine is traditionally hearty and to the point. Years of impoverishment and famine led to honest cooking that holds the utmost respect for the food being used. In other words, food was not taken for granted. And it made use of foods that were available—the crops that would easily grow in the Irish terrain and the livestock that were raised in the countryside.potatoes

The food probably most associated with Ireland is the potato. Potatoes were introduced in the 16th century and because they grew abundantly and cheaply, they became the most important crop in feeding the masses, which is why when a blight destroyed potato crops in the mid-1800s, famine decimated the population.

Another important item in Irish cuisine is cabbage. It, too, grows abundantly and cheaply and, like potatoes, lasts a long time in storage. Sometimes kale is used, or other members of the cabbage family.AU_MAR~1

Colcannon became known in the 18th century, but some food historians believe that it existed before then. It combines these two staple ingredients in the simplest, most basic of ways: boiled and combined into a mash. Okay, there’s a bit more to it than that, but not much. The potatoes and cabbage are flavored by sautéed leeks and enriched with butter.

For a little more in-depth history of Irish cuisine, and specifically colcannon, check out FoodTimeline.org or DoChara.com.

So, make this traditional Irish dish for St. Patrick’s Day and may the luck o’ the Irish be with you.

Erin go bragh.

(This recipe will be appearing in one of my upcoming cookbooks, so please do not reprint it in any format without express written permission.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t print it out–you definitely should! Thanks!)

Mashed Potatoes and Cabbage

4 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1 tbsp + 1 tsp salt
2 large potatoes, quartered
2 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
Pepper to taste
1 tbsp canola oil
2 large leeks, washed and sliced
2 tbsp minced parsley for garnish (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add the cabbage and 1 tsp salt. Lower the heat to medium-low and boil until tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain well.

At the same time, place the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring it to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and boil until tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, peel, place in a bowl, and coarsely mash. Add the milk, butter, ½ tablespoon of the salt, and pepper and mix well.

Heat the oil in a wide pan. Add the leeks and sauté until soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add the cooked cabbage and remaining salt and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring often, until cabbage starts to brown. Add to the mashed potatoes and mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary. Transfer the colcannon to a platter. Garnish with parsley and serve hot.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


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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Orange-Flavored Yerba Mate

I was in a supermarket in Jackson Heights, Queens, that carries a multitude of Latin American products, and as I often do, I chose a product that I’ve never seen before to purchase and try. This time it was orange-flavored yerba mate. (Actually, I picked up two new products—the other one being lucuma flour, but I’ll leave that for another blog).

For those of you who are not familiar with yerba mate, it’s an herb that when steeped makes an invigorating tea. It’s popular in numerous South American countries and is the national drink of Argentina.IMG_2298

The traditional way to drink yerba mate is to prepare it in a hollowed-out gourd and sip it through a bombilla, a special straw, often made of silver, designed so that it filters out the leaves and twigs. The biggest benefit of yerba mate is that it’s an energy booster. Some say that it’s just as effective at invigorating the body as coffee; others say that it falls somewhere between tea and coffee. It contains antioxidants, and it’s been said that it also helps with weight loss. Like anything else, it has its detractors, too, but the Mayo Clinic recommends that it’s generally safe to enjoy yerba mate in moderation.

Yerba mate with Argentinian mate gourd

Yerba mate with Argentinian mate gourd

The gourd itself is called a mate or guampa, depending on where you are in South America. Traditionally, tomando mate (drinking mate) with friends or guests involves a ritual of sharing out of one of these gourds. The gourds themselves require curing, like seasoning a cast iron pan. The ritual is a symbol of hospitality, and is reminiscent of a Japanese tea ceremony. (For more information about the history of yerba mate, the drinking ritual, and how to “season” a gourd, this site is pretty good. Note that I’m not endorsing this particular brand, only its information!)  The one in the photo here was brought to me by my brother when he returned from a “back to my roots” trip to Buenos Aires, where he was born and spent the first few years of his life. Lovely, isn’t it? In fact, these gourds can be works of art, and antique versions can go for quite a bit of money (I’ve seen up to $300 for ornate examples).



Yerba mate has been available here in the U.S. for some time. I first tried it about 10 years ago. But, until now, I have never seen flavored yerba mate. I came to learn that in South America, yerba mate is often flavored with citrus, mint, or other flavors. Yerba mate has a strong flavor, herbal (duh) and a bit grassy, and I find it slightly bitter, so I’ve never been a huge fan. I was curious to see if the addition of orange would improve the taste for me.

Yes, it did. I found that the citrusy flavor, along with some honey, actually made it a pleasant drink to have. I made sure to have it in the afternoon and it got me through a very busy day.

If you’d like to give yerba mate a try:

Place some yerba mate in a tea ball or filter basket (same amount as you would use for any other tea). Heat some water, but don’t boil it—supposedly, boiling water makes it bitter. Pour over the yerba mate and let it steep for about 5 minutes. Add honey or anything else you like to use in tea. Then, enjoy!

If you’re fortunate enough to have a mate, steep the tea right in the gourd and sip through the bombilla. And don’t forget to share.

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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.

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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.