Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


Roasted Romanesco

Romanesco is both an oddity and miracle of nature. As a member of the brassica oleracea family, it is closely related to cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. In fact, it’s often called Romanesco cauliflower or Romanesco broccoli. They’ve been grown in Italy since the 16th century, hence its name (as in pertaining to Rome).

Its amazing and beautiful form is made up of curds known as fractals—a pattern that is repeated in increasingly smaller scales. The entire head is made up of spirals. Each spiral is made up of smaller spiraling spirals, and those are made up of even smaller spirals. It’s just incredible that this vegetable grows in nature like that. (The photo at right is of one little curd. Not only is it adorable, it’s just crazy to look at.)

Its flavor is typical brassica—in fact, it’s like a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. It stays firmer than cauliflower when cooked, and is milder in flavor than broccoli. You can substitute Romanesco for just about any brassica in just about any dish. As I do with so many vegetables, I love to roast them. So simple, so delicious.


Roasted Romanesco

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 head Romanesco cauliflower
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the Romanesco into curds (individual small heads) and place them in a bowl. Add the oil, salt, and pepper and mix well. Spread the Romanesco out in a roasting pan. Roast until the tip of a knife goes through the curds easily, about 30 to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally. And that’s it!



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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.


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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Macerated Mulberries

Berries are beautiful things. They are filled with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, most are low calorie, and all are pretty to look at. How many desserts have been made works of art just by the addition of berries?

Macerating berries takes them a step further. Macerating berries involves simply soaking them in liquid. You can start with fresh or dried berries, or any fruit. This techniques softens the fruit (and rehydrates dried fruit) and draws out their sugars, resulting in a syrup-like consistency, perfect for topping cake or ice cream. Sometimes people add sugar to sweeten them even more. You can use almost any liquid to macerate fruit, such as juice or wine. I chose rum for a nice boozy flavor.

For this recipe, I used mulberries. Mulberries can be found in various parts of the world, including Asia and the United States. They come in white, black, and red, and they are similar in appearance to blackberries, except they’re longer and narrower. Aside from being a good source of magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin C, and fiber, as well as antioxidants, they’ve been known to help improve circulation, lower blood pressure, improve eyesight, boost immunity, improve digestion, and reduce blemishes and age spots. I’ve also read that mulberries are one of the few fruits that contain protein.

I purchased my mulberries in dehydrated form, so macerating was the perfect way to use them. They’re sweet-tart in flavor and complement any dessert, and can be used in place of preserves.

If you can’t find mulberries, try macerating any fruit you like. Enjoy.

Macerated Mulberries

1 cup dried mulberries
2 teaspoons maple sugar
2 cups vodka or dark rum
1 cinnamon stick

Place the mulberries in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add the sugar, vodka or rum, and cinnamon stick. Seal the jar and shake well.

Let it sit at least a few hours.Store in the refrigerator or room temperature up to two weeks. (Because of the alcohol, the fruit will stay well at room temperature.)


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Winter Eggnog Pancakes

So, the holidays have come and gone. You’ve shopped until you dropped, partied hardy, and eaten every holiday goodie there was.

Now you’re settling back into a regular routine again. The decorations have come down (maybe), you’ve made your resolutions (possibly), and you’re starting to eat normal and/or healthy food again (hopefully). You open up your refrigerator and find that container of eggnog that never got finished is still there, with still enough eggnog in it that makes you feel bad about throwing it away.

You don’t have to.

There are many ways to use up leftover eggnog, but one of the simplest is pancakes. Eggnog pancakes are kind of like buttermilk pancakes, but they’re richer and more complex.

Okay, so pancakes don’t have to be complex. But it’s really, really great if they’re tasty and satisfying. Made with eggnog, they are.

So, if you’re like me and hate to throw out even a scrap of food, try this recipe with that leftover eggnog. It’s a great post-holiday treat.


Winter Eggnog Pancakes

Makes 16 pancakes.

1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon maple or coconut palm sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch allspice
1½ cups eggnog
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.In a medium bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the eggnog, egg, and melted butter. Pour this into the dry ingredients and mix gently just until blended.Heat a nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Place several mounds of the batter, a scant ¼ cup each, into the pan about an inch apart. Spread the batter out just a little to ensure even cooking (the eggnog makes the batter thick and it may not spread on its own).Let them cook until bubbles form on top and the bottoms have browned, about 2 minutes. Flip them over and continue to cook until the bottoms have browned and there’s no wet batter on the sides, about another 1 to 2 minutes.Serve with real maple syrup, fruit, jam, or whatever toppings you like.



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Roasted Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese

There’s something about mac ‘n’ cheese that makes people crave it, and it’s become American comfort food. It’s a humble, simplistic dish, but it’s such a part of our culinary landscape that everyone from famous chefs to food bloggers have “elevated” it to something grand. But whether you shave truffles in it, top it with a sunny-side egg, mix in cheese that was made by celibate monks in a cloistered hut in the Himalayas, or garnish it with gold dust, it’s still mac ‘n’ cheese.

But you can definitely make it your own. Use different cheeses and vegetables. If you’re a meat eater, you can add meat as well. Change up the pasta—you can go with the traditional elbows, or choose something more fanciful like gemelli, pipette, or campanelli. The only rule here is that you don’t cook it past al dente (tender but still firm), because it will cook a little more in the oven, and nothing ruins a mac ‘n’ cheese more than wimpy, mushy pasta.

You can use any kind of orange winter squash you like. I happened to have a piece of a round, squat variety that came out of my mother’s garden.

Some days are harder than others, and it’s those days when you need mac ‘n’ cheese. Enjoy!

Roasted Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Makes 4 to 6 servings

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
½ medium squash (butternut, kabocha, or similar)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. short pasta (elbows, gemelli, shells, campanelli, pipette, etc.)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups whole milk
2 teaspoons dry mustard
Pinch of nutmeg
3 cups shredded cheddar
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs (regular or whole wheat)

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a 1½-quart baking dish. Set it aside. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.Peel the squash and cut it into small pieces. Place the squash in a bowl; add the oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Mix well. Spread the squash out on the baking sheet. Bake until it’s tender and starting to brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer the squash to the baking dish. Lower the heat to 350 ˚F.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and table salt; cook until the pasta it’s al dente (varies depending on what pasta you use, but generally 8 to 10 minutes).  Drain thoroughly and add it to the squash.Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium pan. Stir in the flour and whisk for about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking often, until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the mustard, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper to taste.Stir in the cheddar and let it melt in. Pour into the baking dish with the squash and pasta. Mix well.Melt the remaining butter in a small pan. Add the parmesan and bread crumbs and stir to coat. Spread this over the mac ‘n’ cheese. Bake until it’s bubbly and a bit browned on top, about 30 to 35 minutes. Enjoy!


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Leftover-Thanksgiving-Stuff Chili

This is my first post in a while. I took a hiatus for few weeks because I found myself hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in many years.

I used to host Thanksgiving at my house years ago because my family and my then-partner’s family both were very unyielding in allowing us to divide our time. So, our solution was to do Thanksgiving dinner at our house and have both families. We did this for several years, and I don’t think that either family was thrilled about it. The reasons for that are both simple and complex, but what it came down to was that it made the holiday stressful for both of us.

After my partner and I broke up, the Thanksgiving meal shifted to my parents’ house, and it’s been there for the past decade.

But early this year, my father passed away, and my mother, understandably, no longer wanted to do any holidays. It fell on me to do it.

It was a bit more difficult for me to deal with it this time around because a) I’m a decade older than the last time I did it, and b) my job situation is different, and I wasn’t able to take off the same amount of time that I used to years ago.

Having said that, I was able to take off the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day, and my current partner flew in to help me. This was tremendously helpful to me, because I truly wouldn’t have been able to get anything done otherwise.

I actually starting prepping my house about a month before. No, really. That’s how long it took me to put things away, organize, and move things around to optimize the space.

The one good thing about all this was that I was so busy prepping, cooking, and serving/cleaning that I didn’t have a whole lot of time to dwell on the fact that it was the first Thanksgiving without my father. I know my mother was depressed, and I felt bad that I couldn’t spend any time comforting her. But I know others did, and I’m glad. It was early on in my preparations, that the emotions hit me, and now, after it’s all over, it’s hitting me again. It’s been strange and surreal not seeing him sitting there at the table with us.

Anyway, my recipe this week is one that comes from the utilitarian in me, and my desire to not waste food and not take for granted the bounty that we’re fortunate to have in this country.

I call this dish Leftover-Thanksgiving-Stuff Chili. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of stuff I had leftover from Thanksgiving dinner, plus a couple of other things. The nice things is, you can make your own leftover chili with whatever you have in the fridge, or you can follow this recipe, because you know what? It came out great. It’s full of flavor, and because some of the individual elements were made as separate recipes with their own ingredients, the flavors of the chili are layered and complex.

I’ve said this before, but it bears saying again—use leftover cranberry sauce in chili. Its sweet and tart taste adds a great dimension to the dish.

(By the way, the reason you see olives in the photos is because the marinated peppers that I used had olives thrown in there. It was part of the antipasto that I served at dinner. When I say I use everything, I mean it!)

A couple of tips: If you have any beer or wine leftover, use that to deglaze the pot after the tomato paste cooks in, or add it later for a more pronounced flavor. Also, although I’ve listed salt as one of the last items, add the salt a little at a time as you add ingredients, starting with the onions. This ensures that you coax out the maximum flavor from each individual ingredient. Chefs do this regularly, but you will rarely see it written in a recipe because it makes the recipe cumbersome to instruct adding a quantity of salt at each step. But you should do it. 🙂

So, here’s my utilitarian chili. Enjoy!

Leftover-Thanksgiving-Stuff Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/3 cup chopped red onion
2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
1½ cups chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons chili powder

2 cups broth (you can make part of this beer or wine)
1½ cups chopped tomatoes
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 cup cranberry sauce
½ cup chopped roasted peppers (optional)
3 cups cooked beans (pinto, Roman, Navy, any kind you like)
3 teaspoons kosher salt

½ cup chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium-large sauce pot. Add the onions and sauté over medium-high heat until they’re soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the green pepper and sauté until it softens, about 3 or 4 minutes.Add the tomato paste and stir it in well. Mix in the chili powder. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pot with broth (and or beer/wine). Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to get up any browned bits. Bring it to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients, except the parsley. Mix well. Bring it back to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, as desired. Stir in the parsley and serve.



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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.