Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Delicious Date-Nut Bread

Date-nut Bread is a classic winter holiday treat. In fact, it’s become so popular that December 22 is National Date-Nut Bread Day.

Okay, so it’s January, but the cold winter weather continues to call for hearty, comforting foods, and date-nut bread definitely falls into that category.

Dates originated in the Middle East, and they play a huge role in the cuisines from that part of the world. They made their way to the U.S. via the Spaniards, who were introduced to them by the Moors. They are now a popular crop in California.

The word “date” is derived from a Greek word (dáchtylo), which means “finger.” Dates have been shown to help with constipation; promote bone health and ward off osteoporosis; and aid in intestinal disorders, heart problems, anemia, sexual dysfunctions, as well other health issues. They’re a good source of fiber, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. They also contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K. They’re also a great source of energy, so if you’re doing any kind of physical activity, dates are a great thing to add to your snack pack. Be aware, though, that dates contain a fair amount of sugar, so you don’t want to overdo them, unless you plan on burning them off.

Enjoy date-nut bread for breakfast or a snack, by itself, toasted with butter, or with jam, honey, maple syrup, or anything else you like.

Enjoy!

Date-Nut Bread

2 cups chopped dates
1½ teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Grease an 8×10-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the dates and baking soda in a small bowl and cover them with 1 cup boiling water. Stir. Let them sit until they cool down.In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, allspice, and salt.Add the flour and dates (including the water), and mix with a wooden spoon. Gently stir in the walnuts.Transfer the mixture to the loaf pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.Cool the loaf on a cooling rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn out the bread onto the rack and cool completely.Store the loaf wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

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Broccoli and Beans Braised in Saffron Broth

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Saffron

I’ve been so busy lately that I have a stack of magazines that have been piling up, waiting to be read. I finally read the holiday issue of Saveur magazine. There was an interesting article in there by Andy Isaacson about saffron. What made this particular article different was that it talked about domestic saffron, and, in particular, saffron grown by the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Skunky saffron

Skunky saffron

Yeah. Who know that Amish people grew saffron? Apparently, it’s part of their heritage. And that got me thinking about how very little Americans use saffron, while in some cultures it’s an integral part of their cuisine. Of course, cost is a factor—saffron is the most expensive spice in the world (anywhere from $1500 to 10,000 per pound). I almost laughed myself silly when I saw some saffron in an Asian market for $1.99. It was the skunkiest saffron I’d ever seen and wondered what it really was (it looked like singed gorilla hair).

Well, that in turn reminded me that I still had some great saffron that my brother brought me from Morocco, and I was inspired to use it in this dish. In this recipe, you have protein, heart-healthy vegetables, and the exotic saffron to give it a special flavor, aroma, and color. Enjoy!

Broccoli and Beans Braised in Saffron Broth

2 cups dry white beans
3 cups vegetable broth
Pinch of saffron
1 large head broccoli, cut into large florets
1 large onion, sliced
3 or 4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

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Clean the beans by rinsing them and picking out any stones or debris. Place them in a medium saucepan pot and cover with water by about 3 inches; bring it to a boil. Let it boil for about 2 minutes, then shut the heat and let the beans set for about an hour. IMG_5909

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Crush the saffron into the broth and let it sit for a few minutes.

Drain the beans.

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Transfer the beans to a large casserole dish. Pour in the broth. Combine the broccoli, onions, salt, and pepper and place them on top of the beans. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour.IMG_5919

Stir the contents, and bake another 20 minutes to thicken. If it seems dry at this point, add another 1 cup of broth or water.IMG_5921

Serve with brown rice or noodles.IMG_5924


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Blue Corn Muffins

 

IMG_4771For some reason, I got it into my head that I wanted to make blue corn muffins, and what follows is my recipe.

But first, let’s talk about corn. Corn is, unfortunately, one of the most genetically modified crops in the United States. Unless you buy corn that is specifically labeled organic, you can be absolutely certain that the corn you just purchased has been genetically modified. And it isn’t just the corn that you eat, it is also the corn that is fed to the animals that you eat, and that means animal products as well—i.e., eggs, cheese, yogurt, etc.IMG_4718

Organic products aren’t cheap, though. Some people who are health conscious but can’t afford to go totally organic have a list of products that, if nothing else, they always buy organic. If you are one of those people, keep corn on that list.

Organic blue cornmeal is available (Arrowhead Mills has it and can be found in Whole Foods, other natural food markets, and sometimes well-stocked supermarkets). However, I wasn’t able to get my hands on organic blue corn meal in time to make the muffins when I wanted to make them. So, I made the conscious decision to use blue corn meal that I picked up at a Latin supermarket near where I work. Having said that, I urge you to use organic corn—in all its forms—whenever possible.IMG_4720

Now, onto the recipe. Blue corn meal makes for a beautiful purple batter, but the final product isn’t as vibrant. It’s usually a light lavender color. I’m not quite sure why mine came out so much darker than the average blue corn muffin—I suspect that my ratio of cornmeal to all-purpose flour was too high. Nevertheless, I decided that I like them and am keeping the recipe as is—at least for now. I like to add corn to the batter for an extra bit of texture, but you can omit it if you like.

Next time, I’m going to do a gluten-free version. Enjoy!

Blue Corn Muffins

Makes 12 muffins.

1½ cups blue cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grapeseed (or other) oil
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 medium eggs
1 cup corn

Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease the cups of a medium 12-cup muffin tin, or line them with paper cupcake wrappers.

In large bowl, mix all the ingredients, except the corn, with spoon or rubber spatula just until mixed.IMG_4742IMG_4750Fold in the corn, if you’re using it.IMG_4751Fill the muffin cups equally. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place the tin on a rack and let cool. If you try to remove them immediately, they’ll crumble. If you have to, run the tip of a knife around the edges to loosen them.IMG_4759Turn them out onto the rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.IMG_4762Enjoy with butter and jam.

 


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Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Coconut Cake with Apple Cider-Bourbon Glaze

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One of my favorite things about the autumn holidays is baking with pumpkin. Every year, I try at least one or two new pumpkin recipe. This one is an homage to the people in my life who have gluten issues.

I call this recipe gluten-free but be aware that the flour I chose to use is spelt. If you have a gluten sensitivity, you’re probably able to eat spelt. But if you have Celiac Disease, this isn’t the recipe for you.

Pumpkin is a strong flavor and usually trumps any other flavors that it’s combined with. I wanted to make the coconut in this cake as bold as I could, so I used coconut in several forms: coconut sugar, coconut flour, coconut milk, coconut rum, and shredded coconut. This cake is dense but moist with a nice little crunch from the shredded coconut. And best of all, those of you with gluten issues don’t have to miss out on the pumpkin goodness at the holidays.

Enjoy and have a safe, healthy, happy Thanksgiving.

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Coconut Cake with Apple Cider-Bourbon Glaze

1 cup spelt flour
1 cup coconut flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup coconut rum
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup coconut (palm) sugar
4 large eggs
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans, almonds, or walnuts

Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons bourbon
2 teaspoons apple cider

Grease and flour a 10-inch cake pan. Preheat the oven to 375.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the spelt and coconut flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt. Place shredded coconut in a small bowl and pour rum over it. Mix and let sit.

Cream together the butter and coconut sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each one. Beat in pumpkin puree, coconut milk, applesauce, and vanilla.

Gradually add flour mixture and mix until well blended. Fold in shredded coconut and nuts.

Pour into cake pan and bake 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out fairly clean (the knife will be slightly wet but you don’t want to see raw batter coming out). Place on a cooling rack and let cool completely in pan, then invert onto a plate. The cake will be fragile while it’s hot.

Make Apple Cider Glaze:

Place confectioner’s sugar in a medium bowl. Add 1 teaspoon each bourbon and cider, then a little more at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Pour over cake. Decorate as desired.

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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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Bourbon-Coconut-Pumpkin Cake

I love having leftover pumpkin in the refrigerator because it prompts me to bake something new with it, and that’s one of the best things about the holidays. I’m not much of a pumpkin pie fan, but I love other baked goodies made with pumpkin.IMG_1820

This started off as a basic pumpkin cake, but I veered off a little and added a couple of items that I thought really brought it up a notch (or two): bourbon and coconut. The flavor and texture made it a huge hit. My only regret is that I didn’t get a shot of the cake after I’d iced it. I hope you all like it.

Enjoy!

Bourbon-Coconut-Pumpkin Cake

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup organic sugar or coconut sugar
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons bourbon or whiskey

Icing

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degree. Grease an 8-inch square or round cake pan (or line with parchment).

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.

In a large bowl, whip butter and sugar until fluffy (the consistency should be sort of like wet sand). IMG_1812

Gently mix in the pumpkin, coconut, eggs, and bourbon.

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Fold in the flour mixture.

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Spoon into pan and smooth out the top.

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Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out fairly dry (a couple of crumbs is okay), about 1 hour.

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Move to a wire rack and let cook 5 minutes. Invert it onto the rack, then invert it again to be top-up. (If you used parchment paper, you can just lift it right out of the pan.) Let cook completely.

Make icing: Combine sugar and 1 tablespoon bourbon in a small bowl and stir until smooth. If too thick, add a little more bourbon; if too thick, add more sugar. Pour over top, spreading it out so that it falls over the sides. Sprinkle coconut over the top.

Makes 1 10-inch cake.