Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Fresh Tomato Soup

All of my life, I never liked tomato soup. It always tasted like watered-down ketchup to me. Granted, my experience with tomato soup had been the canned variety, but I also had once or twice tried it in a restaurant or catered affair situation (I can’t remember which) and thought it was equally distasteful.

Then, I found a recipe for tomato soup using fresh tomatoes…and it changed my world. Now I knew what tomato soup was supposed to taste like. And I never looked back.

This is my recipe for fresh tomato soup. The  ingredients are extremely simple and the focus is on the tomatoes. It’s best to make this in summer, when tomatoes are at their peak. It doesn’t much matter which variety you choose, as long as they’re ripe and fresh. Enjoy! Continue reading

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Vegetable-Bean Stew with Spaghetti Squash

Very often, my stews and chilis are built on whatever produce is in season and available at the farmers’ markets. I’ll be honest—I don’t get everything at farmers’ markets. I’d be constantly broke. But I’ll find one or two or three items that are in season, sometimes only briefly, and that look particularly good. In this case, I had some gorgeous greens from a couple of bunches of beets, beautiful red onions, and bright, fresh out-of-the-ground carrots. I gathered a few more vegetables and assembled this stew.

But the beautiful thing about vegetable stew is that it’s wide open to ingredients. You can use whatever vegetables you like, whatever beans you like, and whatever herbs and spices you like. Or omit any of those things.

I had the good fortune of having several cloves of garlic in the refrigerator that I had pan roasted. I chopped those up and added them. If you want to add an extra depth of flavor, you can pan roast a few cloves before you begin the stew.

Vegetable-Bean Stew with Spaghetti Squash

1 small spaghetti squash
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
3 to 5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup red wine, broth, or water
2 cups chopped green pepper
2 cups chopped, seeded tomatoes
1 ½ cups chopped carrots
4 cups vegetable broth or water
3 cups beans of your choice (such as Great Northern, pinto, cannellini, etc.)
4 cups (cleaned) chopped greens (such as beet greens, kale, chard, etc.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt*
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup freshly chopped herbs of your choice (basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Split the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and strings from the center. Place the halves face down on a baking sheet. Roast until the tip of a knife goes through the flesh easily, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven. When they’re cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape out the flesh. Place it in a bowl and set it aside.Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 o 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.Add the tomato paste and stir it in until it’s well blended. Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes. When the bottom of the pot starts to get dark streaks, pour in the wine and stir it in. Scrape up the dark bits from the bottom of the pot.Add the green pepper, tomatoes, and carrots. Stir and cook 5 minutes. Pour in the broth and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are tender but still firm, about 10 to 13 minutes. Add the beans, greens, salt, and black pepper. Stir and cook another 5 minutes, or until the greens are tender. Stir in the herbs. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.*Salting is best done in stages. Add a little bit of salt whenever you add a new ingredient. This gives each item a chance to absorb the salt, and it builds layers of flavor. This kind of instruction is difficult to impart in a recipe, but I have faith in you, my dearest readers.


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Homemade Oat Milk

Homemade milks are a beautiful thing. They are fresh and light in a way that no store-bought milk can be, no matter how good the quality of a brand may be. Your own milk also will not contain unnecessary ingredients. The best part is, they’re not difficult to make.

The latest thing right now is oat milk, and it’s probably the easiest of all homemade milks to make. You just dump all the ingredients in a blender and go. If you have a Vitamix, or other high-powered blender, now’s a great time to use it!

Oat milk tends to be a little flat in its purest form, so many people add a sweetener to it. I chose to add honey, but you can add whatever you like, or omit it altogether. I also chose to add a pinch of salt to enhance the flavor of the milk. Continue reading


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Apple Cocktail

Listen, it’s just been too damn hot to cook. The dog days of summer are upon us. Temperatures are making the mercury in (old school) thermometers cry, and you could fry your entire breakfast on the streets. Understandably, you don’t want to be in the kitchen for any longer than it takes to pour a glass of lemonade.

But most people don’t seem to have a problem spending a few minutes pressing a button on a blender for a nice, frothy, alcoholic beverage With the promise of a delicious fruit-based libation, spending that time at the kitchen counter will be worth it, especially with a recipe as easy as this one.

For this recipe, I used a premade fruit puree by Perfect Puree, but there are other brands of purees out there. There are many different flavors and they’re nice to have around for summertime beverages, as well as desserts and savory dishes. You can keep them in your refrigerator for short-term use, or the freezer for long-term storage. However, if you can’t get your hands on these purees, you can make your own. For this recipe, simply peel and seed a green apple.

Apple Cocktail

Makes 2 cocktails.

2 oz. green apple puree
4 oz. apple rum
ice
Garnish: Sliced apples (optional)

Combing the puree and rum in a blender. Add a few ice cubes and puree. Pour into 2 martini glasses. Garnish the edge of the glasses with apple slices.

Enjoy!


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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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Watermelon Lovely

It would seem I’m on a watermelon kick (last time, I did a recipe for watermelon pickles). But that’s what happens when you buy a big watermelon and are the only one eating it. You find different ways to use it.

This week, I offer you a refreshing drink with a kick to it. I call it Watermelon Lovely because it truly is lovely to look at. It’s very easy to throw together, and it makes the perfect summer libation.

Enjoy!

Watermelon Lovely

3 cups chopped, seeded watermelon, preferably cold
2 tablespoons dark or light rum (more if you want it stronger)
2 tablespoons Amaretto di Saronno (more if you want it sweeter)

Garnishes*Puree the watermelon. You should get approximately 2 cups.

Pour the liquid into a pitcher or something large enough to mix other ingredients into it. If it’s not already cold, add ice cubes, chill it, and then strain it.

Stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour into 2 glasses and serve.

*If you like, you can decorate the rim of the glasses with colored sugar, crystallized herbs (that’s basil in the picture), or chunks of fruit.


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Watermelon Pickles

Watermelon Pickles are a specialty of the U.S. South. It’s a very utilitarian recipe, as it makes use of all those watermelon rinds that add up all summer long.

Eating watermelon rinds ay sound strange, but like any other pickled vegetables, they have a delicious sweet-sour flavor that makes a great accompaniment to any picnic or barbecue. They also make great party snacks.

Enjoy!

Watermelon Pickles

2 lbs. watermelon rind
¼ cup kosher salt
2 cups apple cider vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon peppercorns
½ lemon, thinly sliced

Cut away any pink flesh from the watermelon rinds. Cut the rinds into cubes or strips and place them in a large bowl. \Add the salt and enough water to cover them. Cover the bowl and let the rinds soak in the refrigerator overnight.Drain and rinse the rinds. Place them in a large saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to low and simmer until they’re just tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife, about 20 minutes. Drain and put them back in the pot.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, and peppercorns with 1 cup water (or more, if necessary, to cover the rinds). Bring to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Simmer 5 minutes longer. Pour this over the watermelon rinds, add the lemon slices, and continue simmering over medium-low heat until the fleshy parts of the rinds are translucent, about 20-25 minutes.

Transfer the pickles to jars with tight-fitting lids. Cover with the cooking liquid. Pickles should be submerged; if necessary, add more liquid of one part water, one part vinegar. (Or, you can process them in a hot water bath.)

Pickles will keep in the refrigerator up to 2 week.